Along with Indiana residents, our wildlife is dealing with the one of the worst droughts in decades. While it is difficult to predict what the specific outcome will be for our wildlife, we can make a few common sense conclusions on direct and indirect impacts to wildlife.
Certainly animals that live in water may be affected. For instance, many frogs, toads and salamanders require small temporary wetlands for reproduction. It makes sense that the loss of these habitats earlier than usual could result in reproduction failures. However, our unseasonably warm spring triggered an early breeding period for most species and this may have offset early drying of wetlands.
Loss of water is another potential impact. Most species of wildlife require water every day. Many obtain water from drinking free/open water. Many also obtain water from metabolic processes from digesting foods or water that is within the food itself. Succulent vegetation is normally reduced during mid-summer. The drought has further limited this and increased the importance of open water for wildlife. As small ponds and creeks have dried, wildlife must travel farther to find drinking water. White-tailed deer and other mobile species can adapt more readily than less mobile species.
As our farmers can attest, drought conditions limit plant growth and development. This can impact wildlife by reducing available cover and food which plants provide. Wildlife may adapt by changing their movement and behavior in search of food. ‘Non-typical’ wildlife sightings may be a result of these behavioral adaptations.
Drought conditions may result in lower survival and reproductive output by wildlife this year. The long-term effects of these loses will likely depend on what else, the weather. If conditions improve, we can expect wildlife populations to respond accordingly.
In the meantime, one thing residents can do to help wildlife is to provide them with a drink. Birds are able to take advantage of resources as they become available. Providing a bird bath is a great way to help out our feathered friends. If you do, don’t forget to clean the bath regularly. Concrete baths should be cleaned with a stiff brush and allowed to dry in the sun completely before refilling. If you use a beach solution (1 tablespoon of bleach to 1 gallon water) to clean the bath, be sure and rinse the bird bath thoroughly.
For more information on wildlife and their environment see, FNR"Everything Wildlife".