Developing a population target for an overabundant ungulate for ecosystem restoration
Article first published online: 26 APR 2011
© 2011 The Authors. Journal of Applied Ecology © 2011 British Ecological Society
Journal of Applied Ecology
Volume 48, Issue 4, pages 935–942, August 2011
How to Cite
Serrouya, R., McLellan, B. N., Boutin, S., Seip, D. R. and Nielsen, S. E. (2011), Developing a population target for an overabundant ungulate for ecosystem restoration. Journal of Applied Ecology, 48: 935–942. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.2011.01998.x
- Issue published online: 1 JUL 2011
- Article first published online: 26 APR 2011
- Received 31 October 2010; accepted 31 March 2011 Handling Editor: Mark Hebblewhite
- Alces alces;
- apparent competition;
- geographic information system;
- Rangifer tarandus caribou;
- woodland caribou
1. Ecosystem restoration typically focuses on re-establishing native plant communities with the hope of restoring ecological processes over the long term. In contrast, endangered species management usually focuses on short-term actions that directly affect population numbers. Here, we present an intermediate approach. We develop an ecologically based population target for the overabundant herbivore, moose Alces alces, with the goal of restoring a predator–prey system and thus preventing the extinction of the endangered ungulate, woodland caribou Rangifer tarandus.
2. Forest harvesting is a major factor contributing to increases in the number of moose, which in turn increases predator populations. Caribou populations decline as a result of increased predation representing a form of apparent competition between moose and caribou. This presents a unique conservation challenge as recovery of caribou through forest restoration would take decades, while the alternative of directly reducing predator numbers is a short-term solution. A third option is to reduce moose numbers to also maintain predators at low numbers, but the question is to what density should moose be reduced?
3. We created a statistically based target for moose abundance under conditions without forest harvesting by developing a habitat-based population model for moose under current conditions. We then calculated the habitat quality in the same area but under simulated ‘pristine’ conditions. We also evaluated three measures of ecological carrying capacity to determine the reliability of using current moose abundance to back-calculate numbers for the pristine landscape.
4. Our analysis suggests an 81·6% (71·0–89·9%, 95% CI) reduction in moose habitat quality under pristine conditions. All three measures indicated that moose numbers in the current landscape were near carrying capacity, suggesting that the current abundance could be used to approximate numbers for the pristine landscape and thus be used as an ecological target.
5.Synthesis and applications. There are few experimental tests designed to alleviate predator-mediated apparent competition by reducing overabundant prey. Our target will now be used in an adaptive management framework to evaluate the success of this recovery option for caribou, and inform whether this approach can be applied to other systems involving species endangerment from the apparent competition mechanism.