Climate and Animal Behavior

Finding Food

Winters of the Northern Hemisphere are warming and experiencing a higher likelihood of extreme weather events (like cold snaps and early snowmelt). Understanding how species respond to novel changes in climate and weather is a central goal of climate change ecology. Phenotypic flexibility — the ability of an organism to respond to environmental changes — is key to understanding how species and populations will adapt to a changing climate. The quandary of the “little bird in winter” has perplexed ecologists for years as birds must carefully balance the need to acquire enough energy to meet their demands while being exposed to predation during a time of year when food resources are low. We use radio-frequency identification-enabled (RFID) bird feeders) to obtain information on the foraging behaviors of individual birds that have been fitted with Passive Integrated Transponders (PIT). By measuring microclimates, we are able to examine changes in bird foraging through space and time to determine how they respond to extreme weather events.


Finding Shelter

For many winter-adapted animals, below-the-snow environments serve as important refugium from extreme weather. The effects of climate change, including less persistent snow cover and increasing thawing and refreezing events, are altering the winter landscape for many species. When snow conditions are favorable, Ruffed Grouse often roost in burrows under the snow. When the snowpack is too shallow or dense, grouse roost in trees or on top of the snow. We use radio telemetry to study the ecological conditions that drive grouse winter roost site selection and the survival consequences that may be associated with a warming winter environment. Grouse roosting outside of snow burrows experience increased stress resulting from cold exposure or predation risk. Changes in winter microclimates, wind exposure, and snow accumulation and persistence are important components of how grouse use below-the-snow environments.