Previous Boutin lab student takes a first look, attempting to define habitat recovery for woodland caribou.

The public pushes for habitat restoration and protection to save caribou – one of our many conservation tools that can hopefully be a long-term solution while still managing in the short term. But, what does “restored” mean, and how can we evaluate it? Check out this paper that makes the first attempt at using a mechanism linking linear features like seismic lines to caribou declines: wolf movement on linear features.

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ecs2.1936/full

Photo by: Craig DeMars

Linear features are thought to increase wolf movement speed, thereby increasing encounters with caribou and caribou predation. Presumably, when linear features are no longer linked to increased movement rates, the benefit of these human disturbances to wolves is decreased. Previous Boutin student Melanie Dickie used this logic to evaluate how much vegetation is needed on linear features before wolves slow down, and use them less. Dickie found that wolf speed dropped drastically when the shortest, sparsest path reached 50 cm tall. Beyond that, there were minimal effects of additional vegetation. However, wolves still moved faster on linear features until they exceeded 4.1 m. 

Photo by: Craig DeMars

So what does this mean to caribou? In a nut-shell, restoration should work to increase vegetation or other physical blocking (like fallen trees) up until 50 cm to mediate the largest effect of linear features on wolf speed. However, it will take time until linear features are fully recovered and are no longer perceived as a benefit to wolves. These results could be used to prioritize lines that have not yet reached 50 cm of regrowth, more efficiently using limited conservation resources. Additionally, restoration can be used in conjunction with other short-term management practices, until enough time has passed for vegetation to reach sufficient heights and densities. More research is needed to define final restoration goals, and this study takes the first leap.

Photos by: Melanie Dickie

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