The influences of wolf predation, habitat loss, and human activity on caribou and moose in the Alberta oil sands

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Abstract

Woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) and moose (Alces alces) populations in the Alberta oil sands region of western Canada are influenced by wolf (Canis lupus) predation, habitat degradation and loss, and anthropogenic activities. Trained domestic dogs were used to locate scat from caribou, moose, and wolves during winter surges in petroleum development. Evidence obtained from collected scat was then used to estimate resource selection, measure physiological stress, and provide individual genetic identification for precise mark–recapture abundance estimates of caribou, moose, and wolves. Strong impacts of human activity were indicated by changes in resource selection and in stress and nutrition hormone levels as human-use measures were added to base resource selection models (including ecological variables, provincial highways, and pre-existing linear features with no human activity) for caribou. Wolf predation and resource selection so heavily targeted deer (Odocoileus virginiana or O hemionus) that wolves appeared drawn away from prime caribou habitat. None of the three examined species showed a significant population change over 4 years. However, caribou population estimates were more than double those of previous approximations for this area. Our findings suggest that modifying landscape-level human-use patterns may be more effective at managing this ecosystem than intentional removal of wolves.

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