In temperate ecosystems, winter is the season of resource scarcity and energy deficits. To escape the harsh winter environment, many organisms persist within a stable and seasonal environment underneath the snowpack, the subnivium. The climate of the subnivium is dependent on bioclimatic features like snow duration, density and depth, and is a major factor in the overwintering success of plants and animals. Within the Great Lakes Region, the subnivium is historically important, yet winter conditions are changing rapidly. By 2050, mean winter temperatures are predicted to be 3-4 C warmer and the period of snowcover 4 weeks shorter. These climatic changes will likely result in important changes in the subnivium, from fine-scale variability in subnivean temperatures to broad-scale changes in distributions of species dependent on this environment.

We are collaborating with Dr. Jonathan Pauli to better understand how climate change will affect the conditions and distribution of this sensitive seasonal refugium. Now in our second field season, we are collecting data on the biophysical conditions responsible for the formation of the subnivium, so that we can predict its future extent and duration in the context of forecasted changes in winter climate. Our approach centers on the deployment of automated micro-greenhouses, in which conditions are controlled to mimic those predicted by 2050, across major land cover and latitudinal gradients within the Great Lakes Region. The placement of micro-greenhouses is guided by a robust macroecological design meant to capture the full range of expected climate change and patterns of snow fall and cover across the Great Lakes Region. This project will provide new information on the establishment, maintenance, and temperature dynamics of the subnivium, as well as the extent to which climate change will affect these attributes. Funding is provided for by NSF Macrosystems.

Recent related publications

Petty, S.K.,B. Zuckerberg and J.N. Pauli. 2015. Winter conditions and land cover structure the subnivium, a seasonal refuge beneath the snow. PLOS ONE 10: e0127613. Link

Pauli, J.N., B. Zuckerberg, J. P. Whiteman, and W. Porter. 2013. The subnivium: a decaying seasonal refugium. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 11:260-267. Link