Plenary Session: Connectivity

Keynote Speaker

Connectivity in the Anthropocene: Unravelling the tapestry of life

Fiona Schmiegelow, University of Alberta

Human modification of land and waterscapes is creating unprecedented challenges to conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services, among other values.  The concept of connectivity is an implicit integrator that requires consideration of these issues at large spatial and temporal scales. As a result, maintaining or restoring connectivity has become both a means and an end in conservation and management of natural systems.  However, like the concept of habitat, it must be grounded in species- and/or system-specific considerations to be applied effectively. Moreover, from physical to functional constructs, there is an urgent need to address connectivity dynamically under the rapidly changing and highly uncertain conditions that characterize the Anthropocene.   What tools do we have to address these needs? I will review the theory and practice of connectivity planning, and explore emerging trends, with an emphasis on those that bridge the science-policy interface. As fibers are to fabric, our ability to effectively manage connectivity in the Anthropocene will determine whether earth’s natural systems are threadbare or rich tapestries of life.  Innovations in science and an “all hands on the land” approach to stewardship will be critical to meeting this challenge.

Fiona Schmiegelow is a Professor of Wildlife and Landscape Ecology at the University of Alberta, and Director of the Northern Environmental and Conservation Sciences Program partnered with Yukon College.  Since 2004, she has been based in the Yukon Territory, where she draws inspiration from the wild landscapes in which she is privileged to work and live. Fiona’s research focuses on conservation of boreal systems, and spans consideration of species needs through major processes driving landscape change.  Her work is highly collaborative, involving a wide range of partners from government, industry, indigenous, and non-government organizations, and she has played an active scientific advisory role in many related planning processes.

Connectivity in a working landscape

Elston Dzus, Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries

Connectivity spans many spatial and temporal scales. Forestry, and the energy sector, create a significant amount of human footprint in Canada’s boreal, influencing the distribution of plants, animals and natural processes at both the stand and landscape level. While northeastern Alberta is a very busy landscape from an industrial footprint perspective, in many ways it is a relatively intact landscape with great potential for maintaining or restoring connectivity for many biota. Depending on the biota in question the movement and/or distribution can either be constrained or facilitated by harvest areas, processing facilities and the linear features created to move natural resources from the forest to the consumer. Planning, construction, maintenance, and reclamation/restoration practices for resource industries continue to evolve as we better understand the surficial and subsurface influences of industrial footprint on terrestrial and aquatic/hydrologic connectivity. Landuse zonation, including protected areas and other special management areas, also play an important role in influencing connectivity at the landscape level. Merging our increasing knowledge of natural processes affecting connectivity with changes to landuse practices and policies should lead to better conservation outcomes over meaningful space and time.

Elston Dzus has been a forest ecologist with Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries Inc. for 19 years.  He is interested in the interaction of human activities and ecology of various wildlife species.  Much of his work has focused on understanding the complex interactions between industrial landuse and predator-prey dynamics in relation to conservation of woodland caribou. He has been an advocate for advancing ecosystem-based management and other integrated land management innovations through strategic collaborations that incorporate consideration of ecological, economic and social components. Elston holds a Ph. D. from the University of Saskatchewan. He has been active for many years with The Wildlife Society (TWS, Manitoba and Alberta Chapters) and was the Canadian Section recipient of the TWS Dedicated Service Award in 2016.

Impacts of oil and gas development on migratory birds: behaviour, productivity and migrations

Nicola Koper, University of Manitoba

Connectivity impacts migratory birds across all spatial scales, from individuals that must communicate with conspecifics across a few metres to populations that migrate across hemispheres. Industrial development has a myriad of impacts across all of these spatial scales, affecting quality of stopover sites, breeding habitat, and wintering habitat. Migration research using geolocators has demonstrated that grassland songbirds that breed in Alberta are exposed to oil and gas development throughout their life-cycle, as their breeding grounds, migration pathways, and wintering grounds overlap with key oil and gas deposits. The continental connectivity these species depend on results in their regular exposure to industrial development, and this can have a variety of negative impacts. Some of these negative impacts result from interrupted connectivity at a very small spatial scale – connections between individuals and their habitats, or individuals and each other, are disrupted by the presence of infrastructure and industrial noise. Some species, such as Savannah sparrows, seem able to compensate for these disruptions, essentially allowing them to connect effectively with their environments at small and large spatial scales. Others, such as chestnut-collared longspurs, are much more strongly impacted by industry because they have difficulty in assessing habitat quality accurately. We will discuss impacts of oil and gas development on individual quality, habitat selection, stress, nesting success and nestling quality, to better understand how North America’s grassland birds are impacted by their exposure to oil and gas activities throughout their life cycles.

Co-authors: Patricia Rosa, Paulson Des Brisay and Claire Curry

Nicola Koper is a Professor of Conservation Biology at the Natural Resources Institute, University of Manitoba. She received her MSc from the University of Guelph, her PhD from the University of Alberta, and held an NSERC post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Manitoba before starting her faculty position there in 2005. Her primary research focus is effects of anthropogenic development on grassland songbirds, with a particular focus on energy development and anthropogenic noise. She has won several recent awards, including the Partners in Flight award for Public Awareness, and the Jamie Smith Award for Mentorship from the Society of Canadian Ornithologists.

Connecting ecological process in the Bow Valley:  past, present, and future

Adam Ford, University of British Columbia (Okanagan)

The benefits of connectivity to conservation and people are well known, shaping international agreements, national-level policies proposals, and the mission of non-government organizations. These broad and aspirational goals of connectivity are often realized at fine spatial scales, falling under the mandate of land use planners, bylaws, and regulations through the implementation of wildlife corridors. Wildlife corridors are areas set aside from development to facilitate connectivity between remnant patches of habitat. There are two fundamental pieces of movement ecology information required to design effective wildlife corridors: 1) a reasonable prediction of where animals are likely to move; and (2) an understanding of management options to retain or restore movement. As policy and management options are being discussed, it would be helpful for decision makers to know how different corridor designs, or dynamic land use scenarios, influence connectivity. Past research on connectivity has largely focused on describing a fixed state of landuse. Here, we develop an approach to modelling wildlife corridors under different land use scenarios for a contested area of the Canadian Rocky Mountains near Banff National Park, Alberta.  We employ a novel approach to validate our connectivity models, link it to predator-prey interactions, and provide new insights on the design of effective wildlife corridors for large carnivores in a human-modified landscape.

Adam Ford is an Assistant Professor and Canada Research Chair in Wildlife Restoration Ecology at the University of British Columbia. Since 2004, Adam has conducted research on the impacts of infrastructure on wildlife movement, including rodents in Central Canada to the large mammals of Banff National Park. Currently, Adam and his students work on the intersection of wildlife movement, food web ecology, and human-wildlife conflict in British Columbia, Alberta, and overseas.

Stoney Nakoda Grizzly Report and Connectivity

William Snow, Stoney Nation

In 2016, the Stoney Nakoda completed a study on Grizzly Bears in the Kananaskis Park Forest area, as part of the Aboriginal Funding for Species at Risk program, available through Environment Canada. The study utilized traditional knowledge in the process of cultural monitoring as a methodology within the report. This traditional knowledge perspective, is not based on Western Science, and offers a different understanding of Grizzly Bear behavior and habitat. One of the recommendations from the report is connectivity. Connectivity is important for environmental and cultural goals. The cultural importance of providing time and space for Grizzly Bears on landscapes, is not largely understood or properly researched from the Traditional Knowledge perspective. The Stoney Grizzly Report offers an alternative understanding and interpretation of Grizzly Bear habitat and behaviour in the Kananaskis.

William Snow is a member of the Stoney Nakoda Nation, Wesley First Nation, as well as a Dual Citizen of Canada / United States of America, and is of Stoney Nakoda / Yuma Quechan descent. Since 2012, Bill has been the Consultation Manager for Stoney Nakoda First Nation. This work involves the assessment of industrial resources projects within Stoney Nakoda Traditional Lands that involve many consultations with industry, the provincial and federal governments, in the Southern Alberta. Bill is a graduate of the University of Lethbridge, Business Administration program, and in 2016, assisted in coordinating ceremonies for Stoney Nakoda Nation for the Bison Reintroduction at Banff National Park & Elk Island National Park, as well as for the proposed renaming of Tunnel Mountain. Also, Stoney Nakoda Nation completed a Traditional Knowledge Study of Grizzly Bears in the Kananaskis Provincial Park for Environment Canada. Bill is also an advisor to the Chiniki Lecture series at the University of Calgary, and an Advisor at for the Thinking Mountains Conference (2015 and 2018), Mountains 101 and the Canadian Mountain Network initiative at the University of Alberta. In September 2017, Bill accepted the Ted Smith Conservation Award from Yellowstone to Yukon on behalf of Stoney Consultation. Bill lives in Calgary, and works at the Stoney Indian Reserve at Morley, Alberta. In 2018, Bill also became a director with Canadian Wildlife Federation.

Connectivity matters:  A portfolio of connections are needed to protect wetlands and their ecosystem functions and services

Irena Creed, University of Saskatchewan

Governments worldwide do not adequately protect freshwater ecosystems and therefore place freshwater functions and attendant ecosystem services at risk. Particularly vulnerable ecosystems are wetlands, which are being lost or degraded more quickly than any other type of ecosystem on the planet. Satellite-based measurements and process-based models were combined to estimate surface and subsurface hydrological connections at local (wetland to neighboring wetlands) and watershed (wetland to rivers) scales. The relationship between these hydrological connections, biogeochemical functions (e.g., nitrogen removal and phosphorus retention), and biodiversity functions were explored. Results show clear evidence of the interdependence of hydrologic connectivity on biogeochemistry and biodiversity. Conservation science and policy need to go beyond considering wetlands as independent objects but as integral components of wetland networks on the landscape.

Irena Creed is Executive Director of the School of Environment & Sustainability at the University of Saskatchewan, and was the Canada Research Chair (Tier 2) in Watershed Sciences until June 2017. Irena’s research group, together with collaborators from government, industry and an international network of scientists, study the impacts of global change (climate change, atmospheric pollution, and land use/land cover change) on ecosystem structure, function and services. She works at multiple scales using contemporary techniques to investigate how hydrology influences ecological and physiological processes in terrestrial (forest, agriculture) and aquatic ecosystems (streams, wetlands, lakes, rivers).

From Yellowstone to Yukon:  Making the case for large landscape conservation

Aerin Jacob, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative

Although protected areas are the cornerstone of nature conservation, alone they cannot sustain healthy populations of animals that need huge areas to move – animals like grizzly bears, wolves, caribou, and wolverines. Adding in climate change, increasing habitat fragmentation, and global biodiversity loss, it is clear that a shift to “large landscape conservation” is needed.  This includes protecting core habitat areas, linking them via critical corridors, and considering the social, cultural, and economic factors that enable both people and nature thrive.  The Yellowstone to Yukon (Y2Y) vision is one of the first and best known large landscape, collaborative conservation projects in the world.  Stretching >3200 km (1.3 million km2) across western North America, Y2Y’s success is based on a combination of rigorous science, natural resource management, and community and policy engagement across multiple jurisdictions and with more than 350 partner groups. In the 25 years since the inception of the Y2Y vision, protected areas in the region almost doubled and conservation-related management designations on other lands have increased more than five-fold. Evidence from social and natural science, Y2Y, and other large landscape efforts offer lessons of how researchers, decision-makers, the private and non-profit sectors, and communities, can move forward together to achieve conservation at scale.

Dr. Aerin Jacob is Conservation Scientist at the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y), where she conducts and communicates applied research across the 1.4 million km2 Y2Y region. She has worked in research, conservation, teaching, and consulting across western North America, East Africa, and Central America and has advised governments about conservation planning, species at risk, climate change, and impact assessment. She was a 2015 Wilburforce Fellow, a 2016-18 Liber Ero Fellow, and serves on the board of the Society for Conservation Biology North America. Aerin earned a BSc from the University of British Columbia and a PhD from McGill University, and conducted postdoctoral research at the University of Victoria.

Symposium – Women in Wildlife

Dr. Evelyn Merrill

Professor of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta

Dr. Evelyn Merrill (Evie) is a Professor in the Dept. of Biological Sciences at the Univ. of Alberta. She received her MSc from the Univ. of Idaho and her PhD from the Univ. of Washington. She has conducted research on Cervid foraging and habitat ecology for the past 40 years in a diversity of ecosystems across North America. She and her students’ current research include a 18-year study of the trophic dynamics of a partially migratory elk population in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, and spatial spread and population transmission of CWD in the prairies provinces of Canada. She is a Fellow of The Wildlife Society, served as President of The Canadian Section and the Alberta Chapter of The Wildlife Society, and is now the Canadian Section Representative to TWS. She served as Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Wildlife Management.  Evie has been awarded the Alumnae Award from the University of Idaho, the Dedicated Service and the William Rowan Distinguished Professional Award from the Alberta Chapter of TWS, and the Wildlife Researcher Award from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Her hobbies include traveling, gardening, horseback riding and entertaining her grandkids.

Dr. Janet Ng

Cumulative Effects Specialist, Government of Saskatchewan

Janet Ng is the Cumulative Effects Specialist for the Government of Saskatchewan. As part of the Cumulative Impacts and Science Branch within the Ministry of Environment, Janet uses landscape simulations to model cumulative effects, such as changes to the human footprint, under varying land use development and climate change scenarios.  Janet has expertise in ecological modeling, focusing on landscape ecology, habitat use, reproductive performance, and cumulative effects. Janet received her Bachelor of Science from the University of Alberta, Master of Science from the University of Regina, and her Doctorate in Philosophy from the University of Alberta. Her PhD work, under the supervision of Dr. Erin Bayne and Dr. Troy Wellicome, evaluated the cumulative effects of land use and climate change on Ferruginous Hawks habitat use and reproduction. Working with provincial and federal recovery teams, industry stakeholders, landowners, and environmental non-profits, Janet has used her research results to develop management tools that can be applied to conservation and recovery of Ferruginous Hawks in Canada.  Janet has worked with a number of wildlife species in different sectors, including environmental non-profits and environmental consulting. Outside of work, Janet enjoys fly fishing and thinking about fly fishing.

Dr. Margo Pybus

Wildlife Disease Specialist, Government of Alberta

Dr. Margo Pybus spent the better part of a life-time learning from wildlife.  She was schooled early in life among the fields, forests, and marshes of southern Ontario and later in the prairie, foothill, mountain, parkland, and boreal landscapes of Alberta and beyond.

Margo received a B.Sc. in Fish and Wildlife Biology and M.Sc. in Wildlife Parasitology, both from the University of Guelph.  She holds a PhD in Wildlife Parasitology from the University of Alberta and is an adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, UofA.  Margo is a recipient of the Distinguished Service Award from the international Wildlife Disease Association and various professional awards for service and contributions to wildlife management and conservation.

Margo is on staff with Alberta Fish and Wildlife as the first Provincial Wildlife Disease Specialist. She leads high profile provincial wildlife disease surveillance and management programs and advises on related policy, management, and research initiatives.

Margo has an abiding interest in natural history and readily shares her knowledge and enthusiasm for all wild species and spaces.

Dr. Sonja Leverkus

Shifting Mosaics Consulting/Northern Fire WoRx Corp.

Dr. Sonja Leverkus owns and operates two uniquely Canadian companies: Shifting Mosaics Consulting, an ecological consulting company where she is the Sr. Ecosystem Scientist, and Northern Fire WoRx Corp., a company dedicated to prescribed fire and wildland fire where she is the Sr. Fire Lead.  Dr. Leverkus is an adjunct professor at the University of Alberta and is a TWS Leadership Institute Alumni (2014).  Dr. Leverkus is the President-Elect for the Canadian Section of The Wildlife Society and she is looking forward to connecting with everyone in Canmore!

Dr. Wini Kessler

Wildlife Ecologist (retired)

Wini Kessler received her education at the University of California, Berkeley (BA, MS) and Texas A&M (PhD).  A Certified Wildlife Biologist®, she is a fellow and past-president of The Wildlife Society. She held faculty positions at the University of Idaho, Utah State University, and University of Northern British Columbia where her innovative and integrated approach to natural resources education earned her the British Columbia Academic of the Year Award in 1997. Wini served 21 years with the U.S. Forest Service, retiring in 2010 as a regional director for the Alaska Region.  She has been a professional member of the Boone & Crockett Club since 1993, most recently editing their 2018 textbook North American Wildlife Policy and Law.  She serves on the boards of several NGOs chairs the board of directors of the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, which invests $7–8 million annually in conservation projects across British Columbia.  She was the 2017 recipient of the Aldo Leopold Memorial Award.

Melanie Dickie

Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute

Melanie Dickie is the Research Coordinator of the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute’s Caribou Monitoring Unit. Melanie conducts research to support woodland caribou recovery in Western Canada, working closely with academics, industry, and government to facilitate applied research and provide scientific expertise to evaluate and monitor caribou recovery options.  Current projects range from prioritizing areas for habitat restoration to evaluating the relative effect of habitat, climate and human land-use on mammal populations interacting with caribou. Melanie received her M.Sc. from the University of Alberta, under the supervision of Dr. Stan Boutin, where she examined how linear features from oil and gas exploration affected wolf movement behavior. She also has experience working with shorebird, wader, and seabird monitoring and census programs through the Canadian Wildlife Society and the National Wildlife Research Centre.

Program + Events



Final Program

Public Talk

March 21, 7-9pm:  Colleen Cassady St. Clair


Please Donate Auction Items for our Conference

To help raise money for student scholarships we will be doing our annual member-supported auction at our conference banquet.  In past years our members have supported this event by donating items such as art, books, gear, personal guided experiences and other creative items.  Your donation will help support aspiring wildlife biologists at a critical time in their careers!  Please contact Cindy ( or Chuck ( to let them know what you are able to donate for this important cause.

Photo Contest

Larry Norman Comin Photo Contest: