Conservation through education and citizen science

Research

Research

1. Past Projects

Effects of transportation infrastructure on wolverine dispersal, gene flow and population connectivity geography – Banff, Yoho, and Kootenay National Parks and the Columbia Valley, British Columbia

Duration – 2010-2013

Canada’s Rocky Mountains are among the continent’s last remaining undisturbed natural areas and provides a critical trans-boundary linkage with the United States. Maintaining landscape connectivity throughout the ecoregion is a conservation strategy to mitigate effects of climate change and habitat fragmentation.

The Trans-Canada Highway (TCH) in the Canadian Rocky Mountains has long been recognized as a lethal barrier to wildlife and an acute fracture zone for population connectivity at local and trans-boundary scales. As the TCH expansion project (2 to 4 lanes) moves up Banff National Park’s Bow Valley towards subalpine habitats of prime importance for wolverines, it becomes the first highway with wildlife mitigation at the spine of the Continental Divide. This high elevation ecosystem is doubly important given it is impacted by changing climatic conditions and its north-south axis is bisected by the major east-west TCH corridors.

The TCH expansion presents a unique opportunity to address an important threat to wolverine conservation at a metapopulation scale. We evaluated the effects of this major highway on the regional population of wolverines in a protected area complex within the species range.

Our Objectives were to:

  1. Estimate and model wolverine occupancy and habitat in the southern Canadian Rocky Mountains using noninvasive survey methods (Figure 1)
  2. Assess the effect of the Trans-Canada Highway on wolverine movement, gene flow and fine-scale genetic structure
  3. Provide greater awareness and understanding of the conservation challenges facing wolverine populations in the Canadian Rockies and
  4. Engage backcountry enthusiasts to report wolverine observations (sightings and sign) via the Wolverine Watch website and assist field researchers with a large-scale wolverine survey.

wolverine-map-past-projectFigure 1. Study area and sampling sites for Year 1, winter 2010-2011. Sampling sites for Year 3 (2012-13) were in nearly all cases the same location.

For more information on the 2010-2013 research, please download:

How it all began: The Year 1 report provides detailed descriptions of the fieldwork and sampling methods .

Annual Report, Year 1 (2010-11)

The 2014 Final Report presents the results from the 3 years of field work in Banff, Yoho and Kootenay National Parks. It includes: 1) Effects of transportation infrastructure on fine-scale genetic structure of wolverines in Banff and Yoho National Parks; 2) Distribution models for wolverines in Central Canadian Rocky Mountains: An analysis fo 2010-11 and 2012-13 camera trap data.

Disclaimer: The original number of genotyped wolverines in this study has collapsed, due to genotyping errors, from 64 to 49 individuals. The final report (link below) has not been updated.

Wolverine chapters of 2014 final report:

 

2. Current Projects

Identifying conservation corridors and transboundary linkages for wolverines in the Canadian Crown of the Continent ecosystems geography– Southern Canadian Rockies of Alberta and British Columbia

Duration – 2014 to 2016

The Canadian portion of the Crown of the Continent (CCoC) ecosystems has been identified as crucial for wolverines north of the US border to supply individuals and genes through dispersal to the highly fragmented population in the northern US Rocky Mountains. Highway 3, motorized recreation, and a growing resource extraction industry, however, increasingly fragment this critical landscape.

Our 3-year project capitalizes on muti-year wolverine occupancy and genetic data collected noninvasively in a >40,000 km2 area encompassing the core protected areas of the central Canadian Rocky Mountains to the north; and Glacier-Waterton Lakes National Park complex in the south (Fig. 2).

Our goal is to obtain spatially-explicit information on the wolverine population, connectivity, and habitat relationships in the largely unstudied and vitally important international transboundary linkage region.

We are surveying wolverine occurrence using a systematic sampling design consistent with past wolverine research in the Canadian Rockies to enable data pooling and large-scale analyses. Three replicate monthly surveys are conducted within each survey year to incorporate detectability into occupation estimates.
wolverine-map-currentFigure 2. Greater study area for noninvasive sampling of wolverine population in contect of areas previously sampled in the transboundary Rocky and Columbia Mountains.

 

Winter 2013-2014
2014 Annual Report

From January to April 2014, we deployed 20 sampling sites within our Waterton/Crowsnest Pass study area.

Winter 2014-2015

2015 Annual Report

This winter we deployed a total of 63 hair trap sites in the Canadian Crown of the Continent study area. To complete sampling on the Alberta side of the Canadian Rockies 17 sites were set up, while 46 sites were set on the BC side of the Rockies (Fig.2). Of the 63 sites, 15 were accessed by helicopter in the more remote parts of the study area.

The Alberta study area covers an area south of Kananaskis Country to Highway 3, including 3 sampling sites in the Porcupine Hills east of Hwy 22. The BC sampling covers a considerably larger area, including the southern part of Kootenay National Park (n=4 sites), east of Hwy 95/93 to the Continental Divide and south to Hwy 3.

Winter 2015-16

2016 Annual Report

We completed sampling on the BC side of the Canadian Rockies and the greater study area sampled since 2010 (Fig.2). We deployed a total of 70 hair trap sites over an area of approx. 8208 km2. This study area included the entire Elk Valley watershed and the Flathead region south of Hwy 3 and east of Hwy 95/93 to the Continental Divide.

June 2016 – December 2016

We will pool wolverine occupancy and genetic data obtained from all sites surveyed with data collected using the same methods and experimental design over our greater study area (>50,000 km2). With these data the following objectives will be met:

  • Estimate wolverine abundance and density to assess sustainability of trapper harvest in the Alberta and BC Rockies using spatial capture-recapture models
  • Identify core habitats, dispersal corridors and key highway linkages for mitigation measures
  • Assess fine-scale genetic structure and potential effects of highways on wolverine gene flow in the Crown of the Continent region
  • Communication of science and technology transfer

3. Other Resources

For other wolverine resouces and organizations, please visit our Links page.