Répartition et viabilité d'une population vulnérable de bisons des prairies

Authors: Simon, Ricardo
Advisor: Fortin, Daniel
Abstract: Determining the factors that shape patterns of animal distribution and abundance is a major topic in contemporary ecological research. The overarching objective of my thesis was to better understand how one such factor, predation – in its broader meaning to include harvesting by humans – influences the links between space use and population dynamics. My work explores the links between predation risk, movement and habitat selection, mortality rates and the viability of a threatened population of large herbivore. The study system was the plains bison (Bison bison bison) population of Prince Albert National Park, Saskatchewan, subject most notably to predation by grey wolves (Canis lupus) and harvest by humans. In chapter 1, I use movement and habitat selection analyses to reveal the strategies of space use deployed by bison in response to wolves and vice-versa. From mid-summer to the onset of winter, bison reduced the time spent in patches rich in food as the long-term risk of encountering wolves there increased. Bison also left these patches more quickly when wolves were relatively close by. In winter, however, bison were observed to only react by moving away from nearby wolves. The absence of a bison response to the long-term risk of encountering wolves in winter could be explained by energetic constraints, as food is less digestible and movement more costly due to snow cover during this season. Although I reveal that perceived predation risk influences bison use of space, I show in chapter 2 that neither wolf predation nor disease (in the form of anthrax outbreaks) represent a threat to the viability of the population. Rather, the main reason behind a probability of population extinction of 66% over the next 50 years under current conditions is the legal, yet unregulated, harvest by native hunters. Bison are vulnerable to harvest when they leave the park to forage on rich food available in agricultural fields. My analyses refine our understanding of this pattern by showing that every additional 1% of time spent in fields with hunting permission from 2011 to 2016 increased the risk of harvest mortality by 9%. I also reveal that the time bison spend in such fields must drop by 70% for population abundance to remain stable at its current level in a scenario of continued wolf predation and anthrax outbreaks. More than 70% of bison use of fields with hunting permission were limited to just five fields. Management interventions targeting these riskier fields would be an effective short-term strategy to halt the population’s decline. Even though such an approach might lead bison to increase their use of other fields, the demographic impact of harvesting should consequently diminish, at least over the short term, given that harvesting is not permitted in most other fields used by bison. Finally, in chapter 3, I use an individual-based model to compare the relative effectiveness of different management interventions manipulating food profitability (i.e. the ratio between digestible energy and handling time) and distribution to reduce the time bison spend outside the park raiding crops and, thereby, the number of individuals harvested. My simulations suggest that draining meadows inside the park to increase the availability of natural forage there would not be very effective. However, my simulations also suggest that cultivating crops outside the park of lower profitability relative to natural forage inside the park would be a better intervention. My thesis reveals the dynamic and complex nature of the anti-predator movement and habitat selection strategies deployed by a large herbivore in a multi-prey system. My work also highlights the practical interest of linking spatial distribution to population viability to lead to more effective management interventions. The overall result is a thorough case study aimed at improving our ability, over the short term, to conserve populations vulnerable to threats which are distributed heterogeneously in space
Document Type: Thèse de doctorat
Issue Date: 2019
Open Access Date: 31 July 2019
Permalink: http://hdl.handle.net/20.500.11794/35695
Grantor: Université Laval
Collection:Thèses et mémoires

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