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Wolverines (Gulo gulo luscus) on the Rocky Mountain slopes: natural heterogeneity and landscape alteration as predictors of distribution

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A species’ occurrence can be influenced by natural and anthropogenic factors; disentangling these is a precursor to understanding the mechanisms of distribution. Anthropogenic factors may be especially important at contracting range edges. We test this premise for wolverines (Gulo gulo luscus L., 1758) at the edge of their Rocky Mountain range in Alberta, Canada, a mosaic of natural heterogeneity and extensive landscape development. As wolverines have a suspected negative response to human activity, we hypothesized their occurrence on the Rockies’ slopes is predicted by a combination of natural and anthropogenic features. We surveyed wolverines at 120 sites along a natural and anthropogenic gradient using hair trapping and noninvasive genetic tagging. We used abundance estimation, generalized linear, and hierarchical models to determine whether abundance and occurrence was best predicted by natural land cover, topography, footprint, or a combination. Wolverines were more abundant in rugged areas protected from anthropogenic development. Wolverines were less likely to occur at sites with oil and gas exploration, forest harvest, or burned areas, even after accounting for the effect of topography. The relative paucity of wolverines in human-impacted portions of this range edge suggests that effective conservation requires managing landscape development, and research on the proximal mechanisms behind this relationship.

Keywords: Gulo gulo luscus; abundance estimation; bordure d’aire de répartition; carcajou; estimation de l’abondance; fragmentation de l’habitat; habitat fragmentation; landscape scale; modèles d’occupation; occupancy models; range edge; wolverine; échelle du paysage

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Ecosystem Management Unit, Alberta Innovates – Technology Futures, Vegreville, AB T9C 1T4, Canada. 2: Fish and Wildlife Division, Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, Edson, AB T7E 1T2, Canada. 3: Department of Biology, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC V8W 3N5, Canada. 4: School of Environmental Studies, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC V8W 3R4, Canada. 5: Provincial Parks Division, Government of Alberta, Hinton, AB T7V 2E6, Canada.

Publication date: January 1, 2013

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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