Conserving and managing the subnivium
In regions where snowfall historically has been a defining seasonal characteristic of the landscape, warming winters have reduced the depth, duration, and extent of snowpack. However, most management and conservation has focused on how aboveground wildlife will be affected by altered snow conditions, even though the majority of species that persist through the winter do so under the snowpack in a thermally stable refugium: the subnivium. Shortened winters, forest management practices, and winter recreation can alter subnivium conditions by increasing snow compaction and compromising thermal stability at the soil–snow interface. To help slow the loss of the subnivium in the face of rapidly changing winter conditions, we suggest managers adopt regional conservation plans for identifying threatened snow‐covered environments; measure and predict the effects land cover and habitat management has on local subnivium conditions; and control the timing and distribution of activities that disturb and compact snow cover (e.g., silvicultural practices, snow recreation, and road and trail maintenance). As a case study, we developed a spatially explicit model of subnivium presence in a working landscape of the Chequamegon National Forest, Wisconsin. We identified landscapes where winter recreation and management practices could threaten potentially important areas for subnivium persistence. Similar modeling approaches could inform management decisions related to subnivium conservation. Current climate projections predict that snow seasons will change rapidly in many regions, and as result, we advocate for the immediate recognition, conservation, and management of the subnivium and its dependent species.
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