Anthropogenic Disturbance and Population Viability of Woodland Caribou in Ontario

John M. Fryxell, Tal Avgar, Boyan Liu, James A. Baker, Arthur R. Rodgers, Jennifer Shuter, Ian D. Thompson, Douglas E.B. Reid, Andrew M. Kittle, Anna Mosser, Steven G. Newmaster, Tom D. Nudds, Garrett M. Street, Glen S. Brown, Brent Patterson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


One of the most challenging tasks in wildlife conservation and management is to clarify how spatial variation in land cover due to anthropogenic disturbance influences wildlife demography and long-term viability. To evaluate this, we compared rates of survival and population growth by woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) from 2 study sites in northern Ontario, Canada that differed in the degree of anthropogenic disturbance because of commercial logging and road development, resulting in differences in predation risk due to gray wolves (Canis lupus). We used an individual-based model for population viability analysis (PVA) that incorporated adaptive patterns of caribou movement in relation to predation risk and food availability to predict stochastic variation in rates of caribou survival. Field estimates of annual survival rates for adult female caribou in the unlogged ((Formula presented.) 0.90) and logged ((Formula presented.) 0.76) study sites recorded during 2010–2014 did not differ significantly (P ' 0.05) from values predicted by the individual-based PVA model (unlogged: (Formula presented.) = 0.87; logged: (Formula presented.) 0.79). Outcomes from the individual-based PVA model and a simpler stage-structured matrix model suggest that substantial differences in adult survival largely due to wolf predation are likely to lead to long-term decline of woodland caribou in the commercially logged landscape, whereas the unlogged landscape should be considerably more capable of sustaining caribou. Estimates of population growth rates (λ) for the 2010–2014 period differed little between the matrix model and the individual-based PVA model for the unlogged (matrix model (Formula presented.) = 1.01; individual-based model (Formula presented.) = 0.98) and logged landscape (matrix model (Formula presented.) = 0.88; individual-based model (Formula presented.) = 0.89). We applied the spatially explicit PVA model to assess the viability of woodland caribou across 14 woodland caribou ranges in Ontario. Outcomes of these simulations suggest that woodland caribou ranges that have experienced significant levels of commercial forestry activities in the past had annual growth rates '0.89, whereas caribou ranges that had not experienced commercial forestry operations had population growth rates '0.96. These differences were strongly related to regional variation in wolf densities. Our results suggest that increased wolf predation risk due to anthropogenic disturbance is of sufficient magnitude to cause appreciable risk of population decline in woodland caribou in Ontario.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)636-650
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Wildlife Management
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 1 2020


  • Ontario
  • apparent competition
  • boreal
  • disturbance
  • forestry
  • growth rate
  • model
  • moose
  • movement
  • population viability analysis
  • predation
  • survival
  • wolf
  • woodland caribou

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    Fryxell, J. M., Avgar, T., Liu, B., Baker, J. A., Rodgers, A. R., Shuter, J., Thompson, I. D., Reid, D. E. B., Kittle, A. M., Mosser, A., Newmaster, S. G., Nudds, T. D., Street, G. M., Brown, G. S., & Patterson, B. (2020). Anthropogenic Disturbance and Population Viability of Woodland Caribou in Ontario. Journal of Wildlife Management, 84(4), 636-650.