Press Release: Signs of hope from Caribou habitat restoration
Researchers say restoring linear features may help caribou populations recover by slowing wolves down
Humans have created a vast network of so-called "linear features” across Canada’s boreal forests: seismic lines, pipelines, and roads used to access oil and gas reserves and harvest forests. These linear features act as highways to wolves – letting them travel faster and increasing their hunting efficiency, to the detriment of caribou.
Woodland caribou are in decline across much of their range as a result of increased predation, and are a Threatened species. But new research by a team led by the Caribou Monitoring Unit's Melanie Dickie has found that habitat restoration can slow wolves down.
“By slowing animals down on these “highways”, we’ve removed a big part of their benefit to predators like wolves.” explains Dickie.
Glenn Sutherland, a co-author on the study, adds “The vegetation on many of these features isn’t regrowing on its own, even decades after use. Restoration treatments are being used to get these lines back on track, while repairing the predator-prey relationships along the way.”
Dickie’s team used wildlife cameras placed along treated and untreated seismic lines to analyze the impact of restoration treatments on movement rates between cameras. They found that wolves moved 23% slower on the treated lines. Caribou and bears also moved slower, by about 40%. “If predators and prey are moving slower, they bump into each other less. So, based on our results, we expect that restoration treatments may be able to decrease encounter rates between caribou and predators, and ultimately decrease caribou predation as intended.”
“Every year millions of dollars are being spent on caribou habitat restoration with the goal of reducing predator and prey use of seismic lines, slowing them down while they're on them, and ultimately reducing predation on caribou,” she says. “To date, no one has looked at how restoration actually slows animals down, despite changes in movement being what we think is throwing off the predator-prey dynamics.”
Dickie notes that it’s important for researchers to continue monitoring mammal response to restoration to understand how it will impact caribou and their predators in the long run.
For now, Dickie takes these findings as a glimmer of hope that restoration will indeed help caribou.
This study was recently published in the journal Conservation Biology (https://doi.org/10.1111/cobi.14004), and received funding from Cenovus Energy and the Regional Industry Caribou Collaboration.