The boreal forest is undergoing drastic landscape change from energy development and climate change. As average temperatures rise and mature forests are replaced by early successional vegetation, winter survival of large mammals and predator-prey relationships are altered. Changes in these ecological processes invariably affect declining woodland caribou and their apparent competitor white-tailed deer, one of the most pervasive ungulates in eastern Alberta.
I examined population scale resource selection across seasons and individual movement behaviour in white-tailed deer in northeastern Alberta’s intensively developed oil and gas landscape. I used previously developed models of predator frequency to spatially extrapolate wolf and black bear occurrence across my study region as indicators of indirect predation risk. I used two approaches to habitat modeling to examine deer responses to various modes of human landscape change, including roads, seismic lines, and cut blocks in addition to predators and natural habitat. Deer were best described by cumulative effects – or the combination of all of these factors – across all seasons with proximity to linear features explaining the most variation among the parameters tested.
Most prominently in winter, deer strongly selected for habitat features expected to contain abundant natural sources of forage, and linear features, despite a potential increased risk of predation by wolves – suggesting that deer make energetic trade-offs between forage availability and predation risk. At the individual level, deer significantly increased their rate of movement when occupying habitat associated with predation risk. I suggest that deer make greater energetic trade-offs during winter when mobility is limited to evade predators and energetic costs are higher.
Publications in prep: S. Darlington, J.T. Fisher, J.P. Volpe (2019). Cumulative effects of human land-use, natural habitat & predation risk best explain seasonal resource selection of white-tailed deer in a high disturbance landscape. In prep. S. Darlington, F.E.C. Stewart, J.T. Fisher, J.P. Volpe (2019). Expanding white-tailed deer increase movement rate in proximity to industrial features in the Alberta boreal forest. In prep.