EAST SLOPES WOLVERINES: OCCUPANCY, HABITAT SELECTION, AND LANDSCAPE GENETICS
Contact: John Paczkowski and Jason T. Fisher.
Alberta’s East Slopes are a mosaic of natural landscapes, recreational footprint, and industrial features. The Slopes sit at the interface between the Rocky Mountain National Parks and the more impacted Foothills. Wolverines are iconic of this diverse landscape, but how common are they in this region? How has mixed-use human development affected their distribution, and are these effects manifested in wolverines’ spatial genetic structure? As a companion to the Banff / Yoho Wolverine Project, our study is examining wolverine occupancy, habitat selection, and spatial genetic structure in Kanaskis Country and adjacent areas in Alberta. We are using noninvasive genetic tagging and camera trapping to survey wolverine occurrence over two years, and relating these to landscape development, natural features, and other predators (cougar, bears, wolves, and so on) that may be potential competitors for resources. We are also looking for genetic spatial structuring across a gradient of human activity from the Rockies to the Slopes. These results will help inform a Provincial assessment of wolverine’s status in Alberta, and yield insights into how this wide-ranging carnivore is coping with human encroachment into its mountain refuges. This project involves Alberta Parks, Alberta Innovates – Tech Futures, Western Transportation Institute – Montana State Unversity, Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, and the Royal Alberta Museum.
The latest wolverine finds from the East Slopes Wolverines research are out! Download the East Slopes Predators 2012 Report.
WOLVERINE OCCURRENCE AND LANDSCAPE GENETICS IN BANFF AND YOHO NATIONAL PARKS
Contact: Tony Clevenger.
Our study aims to determine the status of wolverines in Banff, Yoho and Kootenay national parks, while evaluating the effects of the TransCanada highway and other major developments on wolverine population genetics and movements within the transportation corridor. Using “non-invasive” methods— including hair traps and remote cameras —basic questions about fine-scale genetic structure and occupancy in this portion of the Canadian Rockies are starting to be answered for the first time. These answers will help inform future management and guide transportation planning and highway mitigation design in protected areas as well as remnant range of wolverines in the western US. The study has concluded it’s first winter field season and included a “citizen science” component that solicits wolverine observations and recruits volunteers to assist research staff with the set-up and checking backcountry hair trap sites:
Research Highlights: A total of 48 hair traps were set out over 6000km2 and checked three times at 30 day intervals between mid-December 2010 and mid-April 2011. More than 2000 km were skied to access sites during the four months. Eighty-four percent of the sites were visited by wolverines at least once. Genotyping of hair samples will be done at the US Forest Service Conservation Genetics lab in Missoula, MT.
Link to citizen scientist site: Wolverinewatch.org/blog. Contact: Tony Clevenger.
WOLVERINE OCCURRENCE AND HABITAT SELECTION IN THE WILLMORE WILDERNESS PARK
Contact: Jason T. Fisher
Habitat loss has been identified as a primary factor influencing wolverine occurrence and survivorship in other areas of North America. Areas protected from development may therefore provide key habitat for populations of large, long-ranging carnivores such as wolverines. This research sought to assess wolverine occurrence in one of Alberta’s keystone protected areas, the Willmore Wilderness Park. The WWP is nearly 460 000 ha large and is a component of the Yellowstone to Yukon “connectivity corridor”. We used our remote detection method to estimate wolverine occurrence rates and population size throughout the WWP. We analysed occurrence in relation to landscape features within the Park, and compared this to habitat selection outside the Park.
We detected 26 wolverines in the Willmore Wilderness, from Alpha to Zulu. We plotted their spatial detection ranges and found long-distance movements and a degree of overlap among males and females. Using mark-recapture models, we estimated there were 32 wolverines in the Willmore, a density of 6.8 individuals per 1000 km² – higher than in our Foothills study area, and about equal with high-quality habitat in British Columbia. Across the Foothills and Willmore, we demonstrated that wolverines select areas of undeveloped habitat with low seismic line density.
A preliminary report is available for 2007. The Final Reports for the Foothills and Willmore Projects, with plenty of photos of wolverines and other Willmore species, have been published together and are available through Blurb.com by clicking the link below.
ALBERTA WOLVERINE EXPERIMENTAL MONITORING PROJECT
Contact: Jason T. Fisher or Luke Nolan.
Wolverines are scarce, elusive, and notoriously difficult to research. Our lack of knowledge of Alberta wolverine distribution and abundance is primarily due to this difficulty. We started to bridge this gap by testing the effectiveness of different methods to detecting wolverine presence, and assessing the experimental design requirements of a wolverine monitoring program.
We implemented our protocols in the Foothills between Cadomin and Grande Cache, Alberta. We developed an effective monitoring method using non-invasive genetic tagging – hair snagging with DNA analysis - and remote cameras. We detected only 5 individuals in 2004-2005. Two of these were not detected in the second year, following oil&gas development at our sites. We estimated wolverine densities of 3 wolverines per 1000 km² in 2004-5 and 1.8 wolverines per 1000 km² in 2005-6.
Yearly reports are available for 2003, 2004, and 2005. The final report for the Foothills and Willmore Projects have been published together and are available through Blurb.com by clicking the link below.
THE SOUTHERN HEADWATERS AT RISK PROJECT
Contact: Mike Jokinen.
The Alberta Fish and Wildlife Division and Alberta Conservation Association initiated a multi-species conservation strategy for the headwaters region of the Oldman River Basin. The objective was to obtain a suite of focal species whose habitat requirements encompass that of a large number of other species. The hypothesis underlying the project was that, by protecting or managing high value areas that meet focal species requirements, it is hoped that the long-term survival of species at risk will also be ensured and that other wildlife populations will be prevented from becoming at risk. Key habitat requirements of selected focal species were determined and maps of relative habitat suitability were produced for each species. The wolverine (page 115-135) was 1 of 16 focal species included in the SHARP report titled Species Selection and Habitat Suitability Index Models.