In the second part of our webinar series focusing on managing for caribou recovery, we heard from three speakers discussing caribou genetics and site fidelity. With caribou being such a hot topic in Alberta conservation right now, these talks were timely and shared some valuable information about how caribou recovery can happen in Alberta.
See the speakers’ abstracts here.
Our first speaker was Maria Cavedon who spoke about caribou genetic diversity and its importance in determining appropriate caribou populations for captive breeding programs. As Parks Canada considers a captive breeding programs for their dwindling caribou populations, there is a need to decide where to source animals from. Maria’s genomic study provided critical information that accounts for actual genes in both source and captive bred stock. She examined 30,000 Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) across caribou herds distributed throughout western Canada. It is important that any individual caribou involved in a captive breeding program are genetically similar to native individuals and that they also have genetic diversity. Maria found there were genetic similarities between Mountain and Boreal areas and that caribou can be used for translocation within these areas. Some genes Maria identified were tied to behaviour, such as migration or habitat selection. Her results can be used to ensure captive breeding programs are genetically appropriate.
Following Maria, Jessica Theoret discussed the genetic component of seasonal migratory behaviour. Genetic traits can be adaptive as they are passed through the generations. As caribou populations decline, these gene-to-environment associations are also at risk. Whether caribou are migratory or sedentary is considered an adaptive trait to their habitat. Jessica examined whether migratory movement behaviour was associated to genomic differences, environmental factors, or a combination of the two working in concert. She compared genetic and GPS collar data from barren-ground and woodland caribou from 31 herds across Western Canada. She used multiple methods to understand movement both from a planar perspective and an elevation perspective. Using a combination of methods helped her to reliably capture movement for all individuals. Jessica’s results show that barren ground caribou are highly migratory, but so were woodland caribou. Jessica did find evidence for genetic drivers of movement. Diversity in movement is related to genetic diversity and both should be considered when planning for caribou recovery.
Our final speaker, Phil Walker, switched gears a little by discussing his research focused on caribou in Ontario. Phil’s work examined site fidelity of parturition events in forest dwelling caribou from a spatial perspective (i.e., caribou return to the same site to give birth) and a habitat perspective (i.e., caribou use the same habitat types to give birth). Once he has identified parturition events, he calculated Euclidean distances between birth sites each year, and compared those to random locations. He found that there was
no spatial fidelity for some individuals (35%), but no fidelity for others. He also found that 48% of individuals expressed habitat fidelity, with 77% of those individuals using predominately lowlands during calving. Phil found that caribou had higher spatial and habitat fidelity in regions with higher levels of human disturbance. Overall, 40% of individuals with surviving calves displayed spatial and habitat fidelity, whereas 86% and 57% of individuals that lost their calf did not show spatial and habitat fidelity, in the following year, respectively. Phil’s results suggest that protecting calving habitat and possible spatial area near anthropogenic disturbance may be helpful for caribou.
This webinar was attended by 40 people and all of them thought the webinar was useful. Most participants would recommend ACTWS webinars to others, and over half of them were repeat webinar participants! That is what we like to see!
Join us in December for Comparing Methods, a webinar about the nitty gritty of how data is collected! Details to come on our events page.
A video of the webinar is posted in our members area.
We are always looking for corporate sponsors for our webinar series. Call Sarah if you’d like more information.
Professional refers to someone who works with wildlife and/or their habitats in a professional setting.
In this context, it is not in reference to a legal professional designation.