Effets simples et cumulés des perturbations humaines sur l'utilisation de l'habitat et la survie du caribou migrateur

Authors: Plante, Sabrina
Advisor: Côté, Steeve D.Dussault, Christian
Abstract: Human disturbances are increasing worldwide and have led to serious and irreversible consequences on natural ecosystems. Northern and Arctic regions may be particularly affected by anthropogenic development because of the high potential for the extraction of natural resources and the poor resilience of these ecosystems. Migratory caribou (Rangifer tarandus) are at the heart of these concerns raised by anthropogenic development in northern regions because they represent a key species of this ecosystem. Most caribou populations, however, are declining and the generalized and sometimes synchronous nature of these declines suggest that global changes, such as climate change and human development, may be responsible. In northern Québec and Labrador, Canada, migratory caribou of the Rivière-aux-Feuilles (RFH) and Rivière-George herds (RGH) are no exception to the current worldwide trend of decline. These herds have experienced an important decline in the last decades. Simultaneous to these declines, the region has experienced a rapid increase in human development, mainly owing to the mining sector. Yet, the contribution of human disturbance to the herds’ decline remains to be investigated. In this thesis, I assessed the effects of human disturbances on space use and survival of migratory caribou of the RFH and RGH. My work is divided into four objectives: 1) Evaluating human disturbance effects on caribou behavior, by evaluating the effect of linear features on caribou movements and by estimating the zones of influence of infrastructure; 2) Evaluating the cumulative habitat loss associated with the avoidance of infrastructure; 3) Evaluating human disturbance effects on caribou vulnerability to sport hunting; 4) Evaluating human disturbance effects on the mortality risk of caribou and their importance relative to that of natural factors. My results revealed that migratory caribou react to human disturbance at various spatiotemporal scales. At a fine scale, caribou increased their movement rate when crossing roads. One of the road in the Rivière-aux-Feuilles range (Raglan road) also appeared to act as a barrier to caribou movement. Caribou also avoided infrastructure over distances reaching as much as 23 km, and avoidance was exacerbated during the sport hunting period. At a larger scale, avoidance of infrastructures resulted in a cumulative habitat loss that could reach as much as 30% of the area of seasonal ranges, and 37% of high-quality habitat available for caribou. My work also revealed that caribou vulnerability to sport hunting was mainly affected by landscape characteristics influencing visibility and accessibility for sport hunters. Caribou were more vulnerable on frozen lakes, near hunting infrastructure such as roads and outfitter camps, and in less rugged terrain. These results suggest that human development could increase hunters’ accessibility to the landscape and thus, increase caribou vulnerability to sport hunting. Lastly, my work also showed that human disturbances have a limited impact on the mortality risk of caribou. These effects were typically less strong than natural factors, such as individual patterns of habitat use, predation risk and weather conditions, on caribou survival. These results suggest that the impacts of human disturbances are limited at the currently low state of development in northern Québec and Labrador, but are nevertheless observable. Anthropogenic development is continuing in northern regions, thus caribou could become increasingly vulnerable to the negative impacts of human disturbance. Because the current level of development in the RFH and RGH ranges is still low, it is appropriate to suggest a shift in the planning and implementation of management actions for population of migratory caribou. Instead of pursuing costly management and restoration activities after disturbance, it would be more effective to limit the area and intensity of development across the critical habitat of caribou. Such proactive approaches would be more efficient and effective at limiting declines in the distribution and abundance of caribou. Climate change is a growing threat for caribou populations; the mitigation of anthropogenic impacts could increase the resilience of these populations to global change.
Document Type: Thèse de doctorat
Issue Date: 2020
Open Access Date: 13 February 2020
Permalink: http://hdl.handle.net/20.500.11794/38097
Grantor: Université Laval
Collection:Thèses et mémoires

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