Use of island and mainland shorelines by woodland caribou during the nursery period in two northern Ontario parks
AbstractPredation is considered a primary limiting factor of woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) populations across North America. Caribou are especially vulnerable to predation during their first few weeks of life and have evolved space-use strategies to reduce predation risk through habitat selection during the critical calving and nursery period. We assessed landscape-scale physical characteristics and landcover types associated with caribou nursery sites in Wabakimi and Woodland Caribou Provincial Parks in northern Ontario to better understand nursery site selection in relatively undisturbed landscapes. Although free from industrial activity, these protected areas may subject caribou to human recreational disturbance, so our secondary objective was to evaluate female caribou nursery site selection relative to human recreational activities. We determined that parturient caribou selected landscape characteristics at multiple spatial scales that may reduce predation risk during the calving and nursery period. Generally, female caribou in both parks selected larger lakes with larger than average sized islands configured within shorter than average distances to other islands or landforms that might facilitate escape from predators. The majority of caribou nursery areas in both parks occurred on islands rather than the mainland shoreline of lakes that were surveyed. The nearest landform for escape from these nursery sites on islands was typically another island, and most often 2-3 islands, suggesting parturient caribou may choose islands clustered together as part of their escape strategy. In Woodland Caribou Provincial Park, caribou nursery sites occurred more often in coniferous landcover than expected from availability, while in Wabakimi Provincial Park caribou used sparse, mixed and coniferous forests for nursery activity. Caribou cow-calf pairs typically used areas for nursery activity that were 9.1 km (± 1.0 km, range 2.3-20.6 km) in Wabakimi Provincial Park and 10.2 km (± 0.7 km, range 0.7-32.6 km) in Woodland Caribou Provincial Park from any human recreational disturbance. These landscape-scale physical characteristics and landcover types associated with caribou nursery sites may be used to predict locations of potential caribou nursery areas both outside and within protected areas for the provision of adequate protection and to ensure the persistence of this valued species.
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