February 25, 2018

Data from: Compensatory selection for roads over natural linear features by wolves in northern Ontario: implications for caribou conservation

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*Editor’s Note* – This editor would like to know two things. One, does the study account for fluctuations in wolf densities? In other words, while one probably cannot argue that the availability of corridors, man-made or natural, increases the rate of depredation of prey, how does this rate vary according to the variance of wolf populations and prey populations?

Second, is this fundamental suggestion within this study, a generalization that can be carried over to other predator/prey relationships that seem to require travel corridors to carry out their kills?

Woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) in Ontario are a threatened species that have experienced a substantial retraction of their historic range. Part of their decline has been attributed to increasing densities of anthropogenic linear features such as trails, roads, railways, and hydro lines. These features have been shown to increase the search efficiency and kill rate of wolves. However, it is unclear whether selection for anthropogenic linear features is additive or compensatory to selection for natural (water) linear features which may also be used for travel. We studied the selection of water and anthropogenic linear features by 52 resident wolves (Canis lupus x lycaon) over four years across three study areas in northern Ontario that varied in degrees of forestry activity and human disturbance. We used Euclidean distance-based resource selection functions (mixed-effects logistic regression) at the seasonal range scale with random coefficients for distance to water linear features, primary/secondary roads/railways, and hydro lines, and tertiary roads to estimate the strength of selection for each linear feature and for several habitat types, while accounting for availability of each feature. Next, we investigated the trade-off between selection for anthropogenic and water linear features. Wolves selected both anthropogenic and water linear features; selection for anthropogenic features was stronger than for water during the rendezvous season. Selection for anthropogenic linear features increased with increasing density of these features on the landscape, while selection for natural linear features declined, indicating compensatory selection of anthropogenic linear features. These results have implications for woodland caribou conservation. Prey encounter rates between wolves and caribou seem to be strongly influenced by increasing linear feature densities. This behavioral mechanism – a compensatory functional response to anthropogenic linear feature density resulting in decreased use of natural travel corridors – has negative consequences for the viability of woodland caribou.<<<Read More>>>