Warm winter weather impacting plants and animals in the Northland

Warm winter weather impacting plants and animals in the Northland

Warm winter weather this season has been significantly impacting plants and animals across the Northland, but what are some of the changes?

Residents in the Northland know how to handle bone-chilling winters. But with the warm stretches of weather we’ve had this season, our wild life has needed to adapt. However, how has the warm winter weather been impacting our local flora and fauna?

Different species of plants are affected from these warm conditions. Julie Etterson, a plant evolutionary biologist and professor at UMD, said many plants are struggling from a combination of factors.

“I have not experienced a winter like this in the 22 or 23 years that I have lived in Duluth,” Etterson said. “The stress of the temperature, the stress of the lack of water, the stress of the lack of snow just sort of weakens plants. It makes them more susceptible to pests and diseases.”

Animals are also being impacted this warm winter season. Ron Moen, wildlife biologist at the Natural Resources Research Institute at UMD said some animals are thriving whereas others are seeing challenges.

“When you look at smaller animals like mice and shrews, they actually want to be under the snow. They like a deep snow cover because it hides them from predators. If you go to other species, it would be good for carnivores that are moving around,” Moen said. “They don’t have to walk through deep snow now, so wolves, coyotes, foxes are able to move quite easily.”

Moen also said larger animal species are not seeing as many obstacles due to the warmer winter weather.

“Species like deer and moose, they’re in much better condition because the conditions have been warmer. They haven’t had to expend as much energy maintaining their body heat,” Moen said. “They’re also able to move around and get a little bit more food.”

The migration of birds are also changing with several species flying up north. Steve Kolbe, an avian ecologist at the Natural Resources Research Institute at UMD said if we see a cold snap, we could see birds flying back south.

“In fact, that happened last year,” Kolbe said. “If you recall in April, we had sort of like a large ice and snow storm and we just had thousands of thousands of birds that made it up here that were like, ‘yeah, I don’t think so quite yet’ and they moved down and waited for it to get a little nicer.”

For more information on the different research happening at the Natural Resource Research Institute you can read more here. Also for other stories happening this winter you can read more here.