, Volume 24, Issue 10, pp 1375-1388
Date: 02 Aug 2009

Landscape management for woodland caribou: the protection of forest blocks influences wolf-caribou co-occurrence

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Abstract

Various management plans have been developed to mitigate the effects of human activities on threatened woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) populations. Most plans do not account for the behavior of wolves (Canis lupus), their main predator. The success of caribou recovery plans may nonetheless depend on how landscape management shapes wolf-caribou interactions. We evaluated the species-specific responses of caribou and wolves to a management plan in Québec, and assessed its impact on the probability of wolf-caribou co-occurrence. Landscape management consisted of the protection of large forest blocks, and the spatial aggregation of cutblocks. Based on telemetry data, we modeled animal-habitat spatial relationships with resource selection functions, and then estimate the relative probability of wolf-caribou co-occurrence. We found that caribou selected mature conifer forests with lichen. Wolves selected mixed and deciduous stands. Caribou avoided roads and cutblocks, while wolves selected them, which resulted in a relatively low probability of co-occurrence in harvested areas. Concurrent habitat selection by the two species was such that the highest probability of wolf-caribou co-occurrence took place in protected forest blocks (PB) from December to May. For efficient mitigation measures, the location of PBs should be selected while accounting for differences in habitat selection between wolf and caribou. The blocks should include mature conifer forests with lichen, minimize the abundance of mixed and deciduous stands, and be far from roads and cutblocks. Consideration of predator behavior can improve suitability of landscape management plans for the long-term persistence of threatened prey populations under top-down control.