Draft Program (February 15):  

Presenter Abstracts (February 19):  

Concurrent Workshops

Friday, March 4: 14:00 – 16:30/17:00

Bat House Building Workshop Discussions on bat biology, The Alberta Community Bat Program, bat house design, placement, and mounting and hands on construction of 4-chambered maternity bat houses that you can take home or donate to the auction. Presented by: The Alberta Community Bat Program Facilitator: Cory Olson and Micheal Kelly

Wildlife Diseases Workshop Learn all about and see examples of the gory details of wildlife diseases prevalent in Alberta. More information: Facilitators: Dr. Margo Pybus and Dr. Bill Samuel


Student Conclave

Friday, March 4: 7:30pm – 9:30pm

“Bingo with Professionals” Organizers/Moderators: Kerri Krawchuk; Dee Patriquin; Student Committee


Banquet and Dance

Saturday, March 5: 4:30pm – 12:00am

16:30 – 17:30   Poster Session and Cash Bar 17:30 – 18:30   Banquet Dinner and Silent Auction 18:30 – 19:30   Live Auction 19:30 – 19:45   Scholarships 19:45 – 20:00   Awards 20:00 – 24:00   Dancing and jamming to the music of DJ Luke England

Plenary Session

Saturday, March 5

Evolution in a rapidly changing environment. Can lessons from the past direct future wildlife conservation?

  1. How can understanding past extinctions provide context for current conservation issues in the Anthropocene?
  2. How are wildlife evolving within our rapidly changing environment, and how does this understanding inform our expectations for the future?
  3. How are wildlife management/conservation organizations adapting to modern challenges, or how should they be?

Moderator: Robin Gutsell

8:45 – 9:00: Introduction Robin Gutsell, Wildlife Status Biologist, Alberta Environment and Parks


9:00 – 9:20: Climate change and mass extinctions: A deep-time perspective.

Dr. David A. Eberth, Senior Research Scientist, Royal Tyrrell Museum


Deep Time in Earth History provides context to understand Earth’s large-scale and impactful physical and biological changes over 4.6 billion years.  Due to the cumulative work of geologists and paleobiologists over the past 200 years, we are all familiar with at least a few of Deep Time’s greatest hits in changes in Earth History, including the mass extinction of dinosaurs, the evolution of birds from dinosaurs, and the most recent ice age with the emergence and ascendency of Homo sapiens.  Whereas such events have previously been appreciated largely as novel factoids or curiosities—serving as plot lines for Disney and Hollywood movies—our current global environmental predicaments have elevated our need to better understand these and other Deep Time events to the status of required reading. Ten-thousand-year time-frames, and patterns of change in climate and atmospheric gases are now well documented for the Phanerozoic (the last 600 million years). When combined with similarly well-documented patterns of mass extinction, one conclusion is inescapable: although change is a permanent aspect of Earth History, rates of physico-environmental change commonly trump the abilities of many biological systems, communities, and populations to adapt and survive in abundance.  Today we seem to be engaged in a man-made, real-time, multi-factorial experiment in climate change and declining macrobiological diversity. The lessons from Deep Time suggest that the rapid rate of the changes we have set in motion will ultimately pose challenges that we cannot yet imagine, while also providing new opportunities we cannot yet appreciate.

9:20 – 9:40: Using riparian dispersal corridors to connect populations in a changing landscape.

Dr. Theresa Burg, Associate Professor, University of Lethbridge Co-author, Rachael V Adams; Biological Sciences, University of Lethbridge burg

Variation in landscape features influence individual dispersal and as a result can affect patterns of genetic variation within and between populations.  Southern Alberta has a variety of habitats ranging from mountains to prairies creating an ideal study area to look at the impact of changing environment on population connectivity and dispersal across the landscape.  For forest dependent species such as the black-capped chickadee, dispersal is limited to forested regions such as the foothills and riparian corridors.  Dispersal corridors play important roles in maintaining gene flow of species in fragmented landscapes by promoting population connectivity.  Within dispersal corridors habitat can be further fragmented as a result of natural and anthropogenic barriers.  We used a landscape genetic approach to assess the fine-scale genetic structure of black-capped chickadees along 10 different river systems in Southern Alberta.  Several landscape features were found to have a significant effect on patterns of population genetic differentiation.  As small spatial scales, natural breaks in otherwise continuous habitat reduced population connectivity.  Interestingly, the artificial barriers within river systems do not appear to restrict gene flow.  Dispersal is impeded between river systems by grasslands as evident by isolation of nearby populations (~ 50 km apart) and within river systems by large treeless canyons (>100 km).  Significant population genetic differentiation within some rivers corresponded with zones of different cottonwood (riparian poplar) species.  This study illustrates the importance of considering the impacts of habitat fragmentation at small spatial scales as well as other ecological processes to gain a better understanding of how organisms respond to their environmental connectivity.  Here, even in a common and widespread songbird with high dispersal potential, small breaks in continuous habitats strongly influenced the spatial patterns of genetic variation.


9:40 – 10:00: Evolutionary changes in horn size of bighorn sheep under selective hunting.

Dr. David Coltman, Professor and Associate Dean/Research Science, University of Alberta coltman

We studied the evolutionary dynamics of horn size in the bighorn sheep population at Ram Mountain, Alberta, which has been intensively studied since 1972. Up until the mid-1990s, trophy rams were harvested regularly under a 4/5 minimum curl restriction, and most rams were harvested between 5 and 7 years of age. Paternity analyses show that rams do not achieve social dominance and high reproductive success until age 8 to 10, therefore many trophy rams were harvested before they would have reached their reproductive peak. Trophy hunting therefore generates strong artificial selection on horn size. Since we have also shown that horn size is heritable and has a polygenic basis, evolutionary theory predicts that a response to selection should ensue, and over the same period of time, horn growth rate declined by 20%. In 2003, we showed that the observed decline in horn size was closely mirrored by declines in estimated breeding values, which are a measure of the genetic component of a given trait, suggesting the response was partly genetic. We have recently reanalysed these genetic trends using a more sophisticated modelling approach that better accounts for environmental effects and genetic drift, and including the period of time since trophy hunting ceased in the 1990s. These analyses confirm the trend for a genetic decline during the hunting period, show that the decline stopped at the same time that hunting stopped, and that the recovery following the cessation of hunting through natural selection is slow relative to the rate of decline brought about by artificial selection.


10:00 – 10:20   Break (FOYER)


10:20 – 10:40: When does selective hunting lead to evolutionary change and so what if it does?

Dr. Marco Festa-Bianchet, Professor, Département de Biologie, Université de Sherbrooke festa-bianchet

Thirteen years ago, a paper by Dave Coltman alerted wildlife managers that unrestricted harvest of bighorn sheep based on a minimum curl may lead to an evolutionary change favoring small horns.  A number of criticisms have been levelled at that paper, which was also used by anti-hunting groups to promote their cause.  The serious statistical criticisms were incorporated in a new analysis by Gabriel Pigeon, who confirms Coltman’s conclusion and finds that evolutionary change stops when the artificial selective pressure is removed.  I will examine other criticisms of this research, including its regional scope, the effects of alternative harvest strategies, the role of density-dependence, the possible genetic rescue from protected area, and biology-independent modelling approaches.  Ram horns are getting smaller in Alberta and parts of BC where selective harvest is intense, but not where regulations or difficult access limit the harvest of large-horned rams.  Ongoing climate change should have stimulated horn growth in rams, the opposite of what we observe. The evidence that intense selective hunting leads to evolutionary change in bighorn sheep is strong.  Extrapolation to other species, however, must consider their mating system, harvest rates, and the age-specific determinants of male mating success. We know little about the determinants of paternity in other ungulates, and for some species it seems unlikely that selective hunting will lead to evolutionary change.  We know how to limit the undesirable selective effects of selective hunting in bighorns in Alberta: let’s do it.


10:40 – 11:00: Will evolutionary rescue save populations in the face of climate change?

Dr. Stan Boutin, Professor Biological Science, Alberta Biodiversity Chair, and Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute Co-Director Science, University of Alberta


In the near future, wildlife managers and conservationists will face the very real challenge of what to do with populations that will or currently exist outside of their traditional climate envelope. This will not be a problem if these populations are capable of adapting to new conditions and I will summarize the evidence for evolutionary rescue in mammals. I will then go on to discuss what to do with protected populations and habitats left out of the trailing edge of climate envelopes. Currently, national-level protective frameworks for endangered species mandate that protected populations and habitats be conserved, with no regard for the escalating costs this will entail for populations stranded outside of their climate envelopes or for habitats that no longer host a protected species but could provide other values to society. Unless protective frameworks are updated to incorporate guidance for the trailing edge, these types of situations will become commonplace, risking a loss of public support as protective frameworks are deemed expensive and ineffective.


11:00 – 11:20: Looking Back to See Ahead- Shifting Benchmarks and Resource Conservation.

Dr. Lorne Fitch, Professional Biologist, Retired Fish and Wildlife Biologist, Provincial Riparian Specialist with the Alberta Cows and Fish Program, and Adjunct Professor University of Calgary.

In the business of conservation we are often so intent on staring into the fog called tomorrow, we rarely turn around and look back at the pathway called yesterday stretching behind us. Yesterday was different than today, even though we may not perceive it to be so. Where we got on that pathway tends to dictate our view of the landscape. A retrospective look provides a sense of, even a snap shot of past ecosystems and the presence, abundance and distribution of fish and wildlife populations. This presentation uses archival images and information to paint a picture of Alberta’s biodiversity past.

The current status of fish and wildlife populations and their habitats cannot be appreciated until we acknowledge where we were by reviewing historical abundance and distribution. Only then, will we be ready to see where we need to be. By reviewing what was perhaps we can see what can be. If there is one thing we can learn about the past, it is to use the past to guide our vision of future conservation efforts.

We do not feel the need to mourn that which we do not understand enough to miss. A fundamentally important task for biologists and the conservation community is to provide perspectives on changes over time in ecosystem integrity and in biodiversity. Then we might avoid the syndrome of shifting benchmarks- like being satisfied with diminished ecological integrity and biodiversity.

11:20 – 12:00: Panel Discussion

Keynote Speaker

Saturday 5 March, 13:00 – 14:00

Dr. Jennie Moore is the Associate Dean of Building Design and Construction Technology at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) located in Western Canada. She works with faculty and staff to advance education and applied research concerned with the natural environment, the built environment, and the relationship between them.

Prior to joining BCIT, Dr. Moore was the Division Manager of Strategic Initiatives at Metro Vancouver. She was instrumental in developing the Sustainable Region Initiative and programs in green buildings, eco-industrial networking, greenhouse gas mitigation, energy and transportation demand management.

Dr. Moore was a founding member and coordinator of Vancouver’s EcoCity Network, and a co-founder and board member of New City Institute that helped launch SmartGrowth Canada and the One Earth Initiative. Her work has received local, national and international acclaim including: a national award of Environmental Citizenship and a Canada Green Building Council award for leadership in sustainability education.

Dr. Moore has a PhD in Planning from the University of British Columbia specializing in ecological sustainability and urban systems. She is a LEED-accredited Professional and member of the Canadian Institute of Planners. She participated in the UBC Task Group for Planning Healthy and Sustainable Communities while the ecological footprint was being developed, and she completed both her Doctorate and Masters studies under the supervision of Professor Emeritus William E. Rees, founder of the ecological footprint concept. She is a core advisor to the development of international Ecocity Standards (www.ecocitystandards.org) and recently served as external reviewer to the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) Living Planet Report 2014. Her work has been published in North America, Europe, and Asia, and she is a contributing author to four books.



Wild Spaces and Urban Places: making the habitat conservation connection.

Conservation of habitat has been an important strategy to ensure nature’s long-term viability. However, in today’s increasingly urban world, this tried and true approach is proving inadequate. According to the World Wildlife Federation, representative populations of thousands of vertebrate species have declined by 52% since 1970. Simultaneously, the global human population has doubled with half of humanity now living in cities. Although cities can provide resource efficient lifestyles, they are also nodes of consumption. They draw in vast amounts of resources for food, energy and water and extrude equally vast amounts of wastes that ultimately must be absorbed by local and global ecosystems. This presentation explores the connections between wild spaces and urban places through ecological footprint analysis. Understanding the resources required to support an average North American lifestyle provides new insights about how to reduce impacts on ecosystems.


Badlands and Dinosaurs

Friday, March 4: – 9am – 12pm  (Bus pickup at the Ramada Inn at 09:00 sharp) Facilitator: Tim Schowalter Bus tour of the Hand Hills area located northeast of Drumheller followed by visit to the Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology. The tour features local physical geography, bat research in the Red Deer River Valley, Tertiary plateau gravels and Miocene fossils, dinosaur faunas, 25,000 year-old prairie-dog towns, changes since aboriginal times in wildlife distribution and abundance, historical information, and some great vistas.