Modeling Wolverine Occurrence Using Aerial Surveys of Tracks in Snow



ABSTRACT  We designed a novel approach to determining extent of distribution and area of occupancy for wolverines (Gulo gulo) by using aerial surveys of tracks in snow and hierarchical spatial modeling. In 2005 we used a small, fixed-wing aircraft with pilot and one observer to search 575 of 588 survey units for wolverine tracks in approximately 60,000 km2 of boreal forest in northwestern Ontario, Canada. We used sinuous flight paths to scan open areas in the forest in the 100-km2 survey units. We detected tracks in 138 (24%) of the 575 sampled units. There was strong evidence of occurrence (probability of occurrence >0.80) in 30% of the 588 survey units, weak evidence of occurrence (0.50–0.80) in 12%, weak evidence of absence (0.20–0.50) in 15%, and strong evidence of absence (< 0.20) in 43%. Wolverine range comprised 59% of the study area and area of occupancy was 33,400 km2. With information on probability of occurrence and core areas of occupation for wolverines in our study area, resource managers and others can examine factors that influence wolverine distribution patterns and use this information to formulate best management practices that will maintain wolverines on the landscape in the face of increasing resource development. Comparing future survey results with those of our 2005 survey will provide an objective way to assess the efficacy of management practices.