The effect of fire on spatial separation between wolves and caribou
AbstractFire management is an important conservation tool in Canada’s national parks. Fires can benefit some species, while others may be negatively impacted. We used GPS and VHF collar data for 47 wolves from 12 separate packs and 153 caribou from 5 separate herds, and resource selection analysis to model the effects of fire on these species’ habitat and potential interactions. Resource selection modeling showed that wolves select for burned areas and areas close to burns, presumably due to the presence of primary prey (i.e., elk and moose), while caribou avoid burns. Fire reduced the amount of high quality caribou habitat (a direct effect), but also increased the probability of wolf-caribou overlap (an indirect effect). We delineated a spatial index of caribou “safe zones” (areas of low overlap with wolves), and found a positive relationship between the proportion of a herd’s home range represented by “safe zone” in winter and population size (P = 0.10, n=4). While currently-planned prescribed fires in Banff and Jasper reduced the amount of quality caribou habitat by up to 4%, they reduced the area of “safe zones” by up to 7%, varying by herd, location, and season. We suggest that conservation managers should account for the indirect, predator-mediated impacts of fire on caribou in addition to direct effects of habitat loss.
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