Talk: “The Use of Anthropogenic Linear Features by Wolves in Northeastern Alberta” by Melanie Dickie

Boutin lab MSc candidate, Melanie Dickie is defending her thesis on May 28, beginning at 9 am in CCIS 1-243.  All are welcome to attend!


Predation by grey wolves (Canis lupus) has been identified as an important cause of boreal woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) mortality. Wolves have been hypothesized to use human-created linear features such as seismic lines, pipelines and roads to increase ease of movement resulting in higher kill rates. I tested if wolves select linear features and if they increase movement rates while travelling on linear features in northeastern Alberta and northwestern Saskatchewan using fine scale analyses with 5-minute GPS (Global Positioning System) locations from twenty-two wolves in 6 packs. In addition, I examined how the abundance and physical properties of linear features affects wolf selection of, and movement on, these features. Wolves selected all linear feature classes except for low-impact seismic lines in summer and trails in winter, with the magnitude of selection depending on season. In summer, compared to the surrounding forest, wolves travelled slower on low-impact seismic lines but 2 to 3 times faster on all other linear feature classes. In winter wolves travelled 2 to 3 times faster on conventional seismic lines, pipelines, roads and railways, but slower on low-impact seismic lines and transmission lines. In addition, increased average daily travelling speed while on linear features as well as increased proportion of steps spent travelling on linear features caused increased net daily movement rates, supporting that wolf use of linear features can increase their search distance. The selection of linear features by individual wolves was not related to linear feature density. In summer, linear features through uplands provided a greater increase in travelling speed relative to surrounding forest than wetlands, however this was opposite in winter. Furthermore, when on linear features, wolves selected and moved faster on linear features with shorter vegetation. Vegetation reaching a height beyond 1 m on linear features reduced movement by 23% in summer, whereas vegetation did not decrease travelling speed in winter until it exceeded 5 m. This knowledge can aid mitigation strategies by targeting specific features for reclamation and linear deactivation, such as conventional seismic lines and pipelines with vegetation regrowth less than 1 m, allowing for more effective use of conservation resources.

Melanie is supervised by Dr. Stan Boutin.

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Technician position available

Delta Waterfowl and the University of Alberta are looking for a technician to start work immediately in the Stettler, Alberta region. The technician will be assisting a graduate student from the University and will be evaluating upland nesting waterfowl. Day to day activities involve nest searching, monitoring nests, and checking hen houses. The technician must be able to work and live independently. Desirable traits include: interest in waterfowl, prior experience using quads, and general knowledge of vehicle maintenance. Position is paid and will last until July 15th.


If interested in the position or if you would like more information please email/send your resume to

Community Outreach by Wild49 Grad Students

This week several students from the University of Alberta visited Yellowknife as part of a Let’s Talk Science rural science outreach program, including Jessica Haines from our lab. During this week-long trip they visited several schools in Yellowknife to do hands-on activities on physics, chemistry, and biology, including talking about Yukon wildlife researched in our lab. You can read more about their adventures on the Let’s Talk Science blog (, but they have not been alone in taking time to volunteer in their community. Over the past year, many of our lab members have been volunteering with non-profits to do public presentations about science. We are passionate about our research and about science in general, and these are great opportunities for us to share our passion with others.

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The biggest event we volunteered at was the School of Witchcraft and Wizardy: Science is Magic through Let’s Talk Science at the University of Alberta. Our volunteers’ passion was contagious as children and their families enthusiastically learned about science in herbology and the owlery. In herbology, we shared our knowledge about strange adaptations that plants and fungi use to survive and reproduce. For example, did you know that there is a fungus that turns insects into zombies, manipulates them so they run to a good place for the fungus to release its spores, and then kills them and explodes out of their bodies? Or that acacia plants live in symbiosis with ants: the plant provides them with shelter and specially developed leaves for food, while the ant protects its host plant from herbivores and competing plants?


In the owlery, we discussed how owls are adapted to their environment and how they communicate. The students got to listen to owl calls recorded from the wild, check out some great owl specimens, and even meet Colonel Slade – a live barred owl! Colonel Slade took the attention in stride as she always does and was a hit amongst everyone who met her.

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We also volunteered with Let’s Talk Science at other events throughout the year. We visited schools to talk about how animal populations change and played games where the students pretended to be foraging animals. We also helped with other activities, such as flaming chemistry demonstrations or liquid nitrogen ice cream. We also volunteered with Nature Alberta last summer to talk to them about mammals. Children (and their parents) had the chance to look at and touch real animal skulls – including a polar bear, a grizzly bear, a bighorn sheep, and other Canadian mammals. We played games to talk about how animals use their adaptions to get food. Some of our Wild49 members have also done public lectures at museums, nature clubs, and at the Edmonton NerdNite.

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Overall it has been a great year devoted to sharing our knowledge about nature and science. Thanks to all of our lab members who have donated their time this year to educate others. And thanks to all the families, teachers, and students who have joined us to hear from us. We look forward to more outreach in the future!

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Post by Jessica Haines


Old squirrels are conformists


Check out this article featuring Boutin lab graduate student, Amanda Kelley’s research:


Kelley’s research findings were recently published in the journal Behaviour.  Click here to access the article abstract:


Field Fun Friday

The Bayne lab deploys hundreds of audio recorders around the province to record, identify and monitor bird and amphibian species. However, birds and amphibians are not the only wildlife we detect in these recordings! Here is a cougar (Puma concolor) vocalizing in Cypress Hills Provincial Park, a park in Southeast Alberta known for its high cougar population. The audio recorder was only placed in this spot for a couple of days but luckily captured these sounds as the cougar strolled by.

by Michelle Knaggs

Impacts of development on boreal birds

Some of the most notorious photos of oil and gas development in the boreal forests of Alberta include the surface mines for oil sand deposits. However, the cumulative area occupied by these mines is minor proportion of oil and gas development’s footprint in northern Alberta. In most of northern Alberta where oil and gas exploration and development occurs, the landscape is crisscrossed by thousands of seismic lines hundreds of kilometers long. Areas where seismic exploration pinpoints promising oil or gas deposits may be further developed when pipelines and wells are constructed, or when seismic lines are widened and converted to roads. Even when seismic lines are not developed further, they may continue to be used by ATV riders.

In contrast to surface mining, relatively little boreal forest is destroyed or converted for individual seismic lines, pipelines, wells, and access roads. For example, older seismic lines (up to 50 years old) may be as little as 6-10 m wide and newer techniques permit the construction of seismic lines that are just 2-3 m wide. Individual gas wells, including the surrounding cleared land are approximately 1 hectare in extent. Much more habitat may be lost as the density of seismic lines, pipelines and wells increases. However, separate from habitat loss, a bigger environmental issue with the construction of thousands of km of seismic lines, pipelines, and roads is the enormous increase in the amount of habitat edges, which are sharp transitions between one type of vegetation and another type of vegetation.

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photo by Hedwig Lankau

(photos by Hedwig Lankau)

Traditionally, creation of habitat edges was seen as beneficial for wildlife and was encouraged by wildlife managers throughout most of the 20th Century. In the 1970’s, however, some ornithologists noted that while many forest birds were attracted to forest-farmland edges in eastern North America, possibly because of increases in resources like dense understory vegetation or insect prey, nest predators and brood parasites like Brown-headed Cowbirds were also drawn to the same edges. The result was what is described as an ecological trap, in which organisms (here, forest songbirds) were drawn into a habitat that is actually bad for them, resulting in lower reproductive success (Gates and Gysel 1978). With further study and growing concern about habitat destruction and fragmentation in the 1980’s and 1990’s, more negative edge effects were documented or hypothesized as biologists became more aware of edge-sensitive or area-sensitive species that needed large undisturbed core areas of forest away from edges to breed successfully.

A palm warbler watches field researchers in Northest Territories. photo by Hedwig Lankau

A palm warbler watches field researchers in Northest Territories.
(photo by Hedwig Lankau)

While concerns about habitat fragmentation and area-sensitive species remain, the overall impact of the amount of edges on species has swung back from negative to a mixture of positive and negative effects. The strength and direction of edge effects on species abundance and reproductive success has been found to depend strongly on landscape, the dominant vegetation type in the landscape, and the types of vegetation comprising the edge. For example, the edge effect of increased nest predation and lower nesting success along forest edges is thought to be stronger in forest-farmland landscapes, but may be relatively small in boreal forest landscapes fragmented by logging (Bayne and Hobson 1997) or energy sector developments (Ball et al. 2009).

The Bayne and Boutin research groups at the University of Alberta have been studying the impacts of oil and gas development on wildlife, including effects of habitat edge on boreal forest birds and mammals for many years.

Yellow rumped warbler photo by Hedwig Lankau

Yellow rumped warbler
(photo by Hedwig Lankau)

Impacts of edges associated with pipelines, roads, and seismic lines have been well-studied for predators like wolves and herbivores like moose, white-tailed deer, and woodland caribou. Increases in edge habitats along pipelines, roads and seismic lines are associated with more moose and white-tailed deer (prey for wolves), more wolves (predators of caribou, as well as moose and deer), and fewer woodland caribou. As a result, most woodland caribou populations have declined and are at risk of extinction in areas with heavy concentrations of seismic lines and roads.

Edge effects due to energy sector development on most boreal forest bird species in Alberta are not as clear. One species that has been well studied by the Bayne research group has been the Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapillus), a small migratory songbird in the wood-warbler family (Parulidae). In eastern North America, Ovenbirds appear to be negatively influenced by increasing amounts of forest edge, in that their preferred foods (leaf-litter invertebrates) were less abundant at forest edges than in forest interior (Burke and Nol 1998). In some boreal forest studies, Ovenbirds also decrease in abundance closer to edges. Leaf-litter invertebrate abundance for Ovenbirds may also be lower along boreal forest edge than deeper within boreal forests (Van Wilgenburg et al. 2001). Pairing success of Ovenbird males, nesting success, and return rates of individual Ovenbirds were lower in boreal forests fragmented by logging or agriculture than for Ovenbirds in contiguous boreal forests, but pairing success rates in forest fragments were higher than for Ovenbirds in forest fragments in eastern North America (Bayne and Hobson 2001, 2002).

Ovenbird photo by Hedwig Lankau

(photo by Hedwig Lankau)

With respect to boreal forest edges associated with energy sector development, changes in Ovenbird abundance near edges are not quite as clearcut. Some studies suggest that Ovenbirds avoid placing territories near newly constructed seismic lines (Machtans 2006), while other studies suggest that Ovenbirds do not decline strongly near older seismic lines (Lankau et al. 2013) or that Ovenbirds will use seismic lines as territory boundaries (Bayne et al. 2005). Ovenbirds may appear to decline along forest edge point counts relative to forest-interior point counts early in the morning, when point counts are conducted and Ovenbirds are detected by their singing; however, radiotracking has revealed that Ovenbirds may frequent forest edges for non-singing activities like foraging later in the day (Mazerolle and Hobson 2003). Therefore, declines in Ovenbirds along forest edges during point counts don’t necessarily prove that Ovenbirds will decline as forest edge increases in larger landscapes due to energy sector development (Bayne et al. 2005).

by Lionel Leston


Ball, J. R., Bayne, E. M., & Machtans, C. S. (2009). Energy sector edge effects on songbird nest fate and nest productivity in the boreal forest of western Canada: a preliminary analysis. Pages 161-170 In Proceedings of the Fourth International Partners In Flight Conference: Tundra to Tropics. McAllen, Texas, February, 2009.

Bayne, E.M. and K.A. Hobson. 1997. Comparing the effects of landscape fragmentation by forestry and agriculture on predation of artificial nests. Conservation Biology 11: 1418-1429.

Bayne, E.M. and K.A. Hobson. 2001. Effects of habitat fragmentation on pairing success of Ovenbirds: importance of male age and floater behavior. Auk 118: 380-388.

Bayne, E.M. and K.A. Hobson. 2002. Apparent survival of male Ovenbirds in fragmented and forested boreal landscapes. Ecology 83: 1307-1316.

Bayne, E.M., S.L. Van Wilgenburg, S. Boutin, and K.A. Hobson. 2005. Modeling and field-testing of Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapillus) responses to boreal forest dissection by energy sector development at multiple spatial scales. Landscape Ecology 20: 203-216.

Burke, D.M. and E. Nol. 1998. Influence of food abundance, nest-site habitat, and forest fragmentation on breeding Ovenbirds. Auk 115: 96-104.

Gates, J.E. and L.W. Gysel. 1978. Avian nest dispersion and fledgling success in field-forest ecotones. Ecology 59: 871-883.

Lankau, Hedwig Erika Gertraude. 2014. Songbird responses to regenerating seismic lines in the boreal forest. Masters thesis, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta.

Machtans, Craig S. 2006. Songbird response to seismic lines in the western boreal forest: a manipulative experiment. Canadian Journal of Zoology 84: 1421-1430.

Mazerolle, D.F. and K.A. Hobson. 2003. Do ovenbirds (Seiurus aurocapillus) avoid boreal forest edges? A spatiotemporal analysis in an agricultural landscape. Auk 120: 152-162.

Van Wilgenburg, S.L., D.F. Mazerolle, and K.A. Hobson. 2001. Patterns of arthropod abundance, vegetation, and microclimate at boreal forest edge and interior in two landscapes: implications for forest birds. Ecoscience 8: 454-461.

Learn Ecology through a University of Alberta Field Course in Kananaskis

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In August, Stan Boutin teaches an ecology field course in Kananaskis, Alberta. This provides undergraduate students at the University of Alberta with a unique opportunity to experience Rocky Mountain ecosystems. Students live at the Barrier Lake Field Station ( and take day trips throughout the area to gain hands-on field skills, including working with wild animals.


Students explore population ecology by live capture and marking of small mammals to determine population size. Community ecology is introduced by measuring invertebrate species diversity in streams. Observing pikas in their natural habitat gives students a chance to discover behavioural ecology concepts. Students then have the opportunity to apply these skills by designing their own field study. This is a great chance to experience ecology in action while exploring the untamed beauty of Alberta’s mountains and wildlife.


This year’s course will take place from 19-29 August, 2015. If you are interested in attending or want more information about the course and prerequisites, please contact Stan ( or check out the course website (


Photos are from the 2014 field course, post and photos by Jessica Haines.