Effects of habitat quality and access management on the density of a recovering grizzly bear population

Clayton Lamb and colleagues from the Provincial Government of British Columbia and University of Alberta recently published an article in the Journal of Applied Ecology. This work investigates the factors driving the density of a threatened grizzly bear population in southern British Columbia.

Key results and conclusions:

  1. Heavily roaded areas had lower grizzly bear density.
  2. Closing roads to the public restored bear density in this area.
  3. Maintaining roadless areas in productive bear habitat is critical.
  4. Areas of low road density and high habitat quality occur as islands surrounded by either high road densities or poor habitat, limiting grizzly bear connectivity.

The Open Access article can be found here:


Infographic by Wild 49 Alumnus Kate Broadley, MSc.

An adventure in the far north – Deline, NWT

 Deline in the Sahtu region, NWT

One of the perks of graduate studies are opportunities to go to remote places that few other people get the chance to see. Earlier this summer I had the opportunity to travel to a remote fly-in only community in the Northwest Territory. The purpose of the trip was not directly related to my thesis, but to help start a local community bird monitoring program in two communities in the Sahtu region of the NWT, a project that the Bioacoustic Unit at the University of Alberta (http://bioacoustic.abmi.ca/) and my supervisor, Erin Bayne, is involved in. So in June, I travelled to Deline on the shores of the Great Bear Lake, and another graduate student, Michelle Knaggs travelled to Tulita on the MacKenzie River. Our roles were to bring autonomous recording units (ARUs) to the communities and start deploying them at various locations nearby with the help of locally hired guides.

The day I arrived in Deline was summer solstice and National Indigenous Day, and the following day was another holiday, Sahtu Day. The festivities involved a delicious BBQ cooked over a wood fire, a variety of games including egg tosses and obstacle courses, and a drum circle. These two days of local celebrations served as an excellent introduction to the community of Deline and gave me the opportunity to meet many of the locals.

In the week that I stayed there, I deployed the ARUs in several different locations around Deline. Though Deline is probably the furthest north I’ve ever been in Canada, the habitat was quite familiar. This area is still within the boreal forest, and the predominant habitat here is black spruce forest.

Black spruce forest in the area surrounding Deline

There were only a few roads and trails, so the access was relatively limited in the first couple of days because there was still so much ice on Great Bear Lake. Talking to people in the community, it was not that unusual to still have ice on the lake in mid-June, and it was largely dependent on the wind direction.

Ice on Great Bear Lake

Finally, the wind changed direction and pushed the ice out into the middle of the lake and away from the shores of Deline. In the last couple days I was there, I was able to get out by boat on Great Bear Lake and put some of the ARUs along the shore.

Boats along the shore of Great Bear Lake

The lake in the evenings was truly mesmerizing, flat as glass and incredibly clear, I could still see the rocky bottom several hundred meters out from shore. It was calm and peaceful being out in a boat on the lake in the evenings. The long days meant there was no rush to get things done before it got dark.

View of Deline from a very calm Great Bear Lake

There was a diversity of birds on the lake including Common Loons, and a variety of ducks such as Northern Pintails, Mergansers, and Scoters. In town, there were large numbers of Ravens and Herring Gulls.

A Raven and Herring Gull, abundant in town and especially at the town dump

It’ll be really interesting to see what birds we get on the recordings, the listening will be starting this fall. Since this area is so far north, it’s at the northern limit of the distribution of many birds. For me, it was a unique experience in the far north, one that I won’t soon forget.

  • Photos and blog post by Julia Shonfield


Kluane Lynx Research Feature

Lynx research out of Kluane, Yukon will be featured in the 4th episode “Winter” of the CBC documentary series “The Wild Canadian Year.” The Wild Canadian Year airs on Sundays at 8 PM / 8:30 NT on CBC Television. The Winter episode premieres this Sunday, October 15th. University of Alberta students in the Boutin lab worked with filmmakers to help catch unique footage of lynx for the documentary.

Watch a preview of the series and find more information about the Winter episode HERE.

Watch a sneak peek of a lynx chasing a snowshoe hare HERE.

Bayne lab flies high at ‘Birds in the Anthropocene’ ornithology conference in Michigan

In the first week of August a joint conference was held by the American Ornithological Society and the Canadian Society of Ornithologists in East Lansing, Michigan. The theme of the meeting was ‘Birds in the Anthropocene’, which aligns well with the research in the Bayne lab on understanding impacts of human-caused disturbance birds. Erin Bayne was invited as a plenary speaker and delivered an excellent talk entitled “How many birds will I kill in my lifetime directly vs. indirectly: Which matters more?” In this talk Dr. Bayne compared the estimated number of birds killed directly by window collisions and domestic cats to the number of birds killed due to habitat loss by forestry and other industrial operations. It was a compelling talk that forced us to think more critically about where to invest money for bird conservation.

Photo: Erin presenting some of the work from the Boreal Avian Modelling project during his talk on human-caused bird mortality.

Several students in the Bayne lab also presented their research at this conference including myself (Julia Shonfield), Emily Upham-Mills, and Natalie Sanchez. I presented my research in a symposium on ‘Mechanisms underlying avian responses to energy development’. It was a fascinating symposium with examples of impacts on birds from three regions of energy development in North America: Alberta, Wyoming and Virginia. The research I presented was on the impacts of energy development and disturbance in northeastern Alberta on barred owls, great horned owls, and boreal owls at multiple scales. Owls, unlike many songbirds, do not show avoidance of areas affected by industrial noise at the scale of a home range.

Photo: Julia presenting during the symposium on avian responses to energy development.

Natalie Sanchez presented part of her PhD research in her talk titled “Beak morphology predicts vocal features in songbirds: Understanding vocal responses to chronic industrial noise”. She presented in the session on ‘Communication and Song’. The main finding of her talk was the relationship between vocal features of birds commonly found close to compressor stations in Northern Alberta and those avoiding noisy sites with the shape of their beaks. She suggested the use of beak morphology as a trait to predict sensitivity to chronic noise in passerine birds.

Photo: Natalie presenting her talk on beak morphology and vocal features of songbirds.

Emily Upham-Mills presented part of her MSc research in her talk titled “Use of song rate to infer breeding status in the Olive-sided Flycatcher” in the ‘Breeding Behaviour’ session. Her presentation focused on how the amount and rate of singing declines as male flycatchers cycle through the breeding phases; pairing, incubation and feeding young. She also presented some initial results on using acoustic recording units to monitor song variation and the application of this knowledge in avian conservation.

In addition to great sessions of scientific talks, the conference also organized a number of fun social events. There was a quiz bowl of bird trivia where only the biggest bird nerds stood any chance of winning! Followed that evening by a fantastic live band called ‘The Ragbirds’. The banquet on the final evening featured very local dishes, with dairy products and pork produced right on the Michigan State University campus.

Photo: Natalie, Emily and Julia at the banquet.

For Emily and myself, our final day in Michigan was spent on one of the field trips of the conference. We left early in the morning for Shiawassee National Refuge, a beautiful and extensive wetland complex with abundant wildlife. Certainly there were many interesting bird species with some of the highlights including indigo buntings, gray catbirds, green herons, a bittern, black-crowned night herons, and a peregrine falcon. A great way to cap off a fantastic conference!

Photo: A panoramic view of the wetland complex at Shiawassee National Refuge.

Post and photos by: Julia Shonfield



Field Fun Friday

A grizzly bear rubs against a tree in Clayton Lamb‘s British Columbia study area. Clayton uses hair samples from grizzly rub trees to identify individual bears and further our understanding of BC’s grizzlies. Bear claws are one way to identify the bear species. Black bear claws are short and have a darker color. Grizzly claws are long (about as long as human fingers!) and light-colored.

Photo by Clayton Lamb.