Assessing the Influence of In Situ Industrial Development on Caribou (Rangifer tarandus) Movement in the Lower Athabasca Planning Region of Alberta. 2012 Final Report

Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute
Alberta Innovates - Technology Futures
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In-situ oil sands extraction is rapidly expanding in northeast Alberta, and there is uncertainty whether features of in-situ developments (ISDs), e.g., above-ground  pipelines, restrict caribou movements. Restricted movement has been shown to increase extinction probability of wide-ranging species and could have similar effects on caribou populations in northeast Alberta. Here we test for effects of simulated future (i.e., 50 years from now) ISDs on simulated caribou movements. We varied the spacing (no buffer, 800 m buffer and 2 km buffer between ISDs), protected areas (yes or no), and permeability (impermeable to completely permeable) of simulated future ISDs on caribou movement. We used t-tests and a generalized linear model (GLM) to test for the effects of these treatments on caribou step lengths (i.e., the distance between two successive locations) and annual home ranges (i.e., the space an animal occupies throughout its life), key metrics of small and large spatiotemporal scales of movement, respectively. Caribou movement simulations were parameterized with existing location data from GPS-collared individuals and using a step selection function. With few exceptions, permeability across ISDs was the main factor affecting caribou movement. However, minimal permeability (crossing rates of at least 25%, relative to an undisturbed site) was needed to maintain step length and home range sizes. Furthermore, the relationship was non-linear, suggesting that a minimum  threshold of permeability is needed. Our simulations provide land use planners the  ability to test and prioritize the most efficient means of mitigating the effects of ISDs on caribou movement.