Of goat and heat, the differential impact of summer temperature on habitat selection and activity patterns in mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus) of different ecotypes

Authors: Michaud, Albert
Advisor: Côté, Steeve D.White, Kevin S.
Abstract: Rapid climate change impacts the biosphere, including species extinctions, range shifts, ecosystem collapses and behavioural modifications. These impacts are likely to be exacerbated as climate change continues to accelerate. To predict impacts of projected changes, we must understand how climate and weather influence species behaviour and space use. In North America, both precipitation and temperature are expected to increase in the coming decades especially at high latitudes and altitudes. Mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus), like many northern ungulates, will likely be negatively affected by warmer summer temperatures. The aim of this study is to understand how summer environmental conditions influence behaviour and movement patterns of mountain goats to better understand future impacts of climate change. We hypothesized that high summer temperatures result in mountain goats utilizing heat avoidance tactics such as the use of cool microsites (high elevation, forested areas, snow patches, and shady habitats) and reducing activity during the hottest period of the day. We also hypothesized that the heat avoidance tactics used by goats in coastal and continental environments differ, with coastal goats using higher elevations in warm temperatures, and continental goats moving to forested and shady areas. We analyzed the influence of summer weather conditions, particularly temperature, on the activity patterns and habitat selection of four populations of mountain goats representing the two ecotypes found in this species, coastal and continental. Mountain goats of the two ecotypes used very different tactics to avoid heat in their habitat selection. Mountain goats in coastal environments selected open habitats close to snow, while goats in continental sites selected forest environments when the temperature increased. Mountain goats in continental environments selected higher elevation habitats when the temperature increased while goats in coastal environments selected higher elevation habitats at all temperatures. Mountain goats of both ecotypes reduced their proportion of time spent active when temperatures increased during the middle of the day, but activity at dawn and dusk was not influenced temperature. Our study shows that mountain goats use a series of different tactics to avoid heat stress. We also show that mountain goats living in different ecosystems use alternative tactics and are affected by climate change in different ways. This highlights the importance of assessing the impact of climate change at the populational level rather than the species level, as species are not a homogeneous assemblage of populations and populations are experiencing different environmental constraints.
Document Type: Mémoire de maîtrise
Issue Date: 2022
Open Access Date: 16 May 2022
Permalink: http://hdl.handle.net/20.500.11794/73429
Grantor: Université Laval
Collection:Thèses et mémoires

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