The influence of landscape matrix on isolated patch use by wide-ranging animals: conservation lessons for woodland caribou

Authors

  • Rémi Lesmerises,

    1. Département de Biologie, Chimie et Géographie, Université du Québec à Rimouski, Groupe de recherche BORÉAS & Centre d'Études Nordiques, Rimouski, QC, Canada
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  • Jean-Pierre Ouellet,

    1. Bureau du recteur, Université du Québec à Rimouski, Rimouski, QC, Canada
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  • Claude Dussault,

    1. Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune du Québec, Direction de l'expertise Énergie-Faune-Forêts-Mines-Territoire du Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean, Jonquière, QC, Canada
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  • Martin-Hugues St-Laurent

    Corresponding author
    1. Département de Biologie, Chimie et Géographie, Université du Québec à Rimouski, Groupe de recherche BORÉAS, Centre d'Études Nordiques & Centre d'Étude de la Forêt, Rimouski, QC, Canada
    • Correspondence

      Martin-Hugues St-Laurent, Département de Biologie, Chimie et Géographie, Université du Québec à Rimouski, Groupe de recherche BORÉAS, Centre d'Études Nordiques & Centre d'Étude de la Forêt, 300 Allée des Ursulines, Rimouski, QC G5L 3A1, Canada. Tel: (418) 723-1986 ext. 1538;

      Fax: (418) 724-1849;

      E-mail: martin-hugues_st-laurent@uqar.ca

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Abstract

For conservation purposes, it is important to design studies that explicitly quantify responses of focal species to different land management scenarios. Here, we propose an approach that combines the influence of landscape matrices with the intrinsic attributes of remaining habitat patches on the space use behavior of woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), a threatened subspecies of Rangifer. We sought to link characteristics of forest remnants and their surrounding environment to caribou use (i.e., occurrence and intensity). We tracked 51 females using GPS telemetry north of the Saguenay River (Québec, Canada) between 2004 and 2010 and documented their use of mature forest remnants ranging between 30 and ~170 000 ha in a highly managed landscape. Habitat proportion and anthropogenic feature density within incremental buffer zones (from 100 to 7500 m), together with intrinsic residual forest patch characteristics, were linked to caribou GPS location occurrence and density to establish the range of influence of the surrounding matrix. We found that patch size and composition influence caribou occurrence and intensity of use within a patch. Patch size had to reach approximately 270 km2 to attain 75% probability of use by caribou. We found that small patches (<100 km2) induced concentration of caribou activities that were shown to make them more vulnerable to predation and to act as ecological traps. Woodland caribou clearly need large residual forest patches, embedded in a relatively undisturbed matrix, to achieve low densities as an antipredator strategy. Our patch-based methodological approach, using GPS telemetry data, offers a new perspective of space use behavior of wide-ranging species inhabiting fragmented landscapes and allows us to highlight the impacts of large scale management. Furthermore, our study provides insights that might have important implications for effective caribou conservation and forest management.

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