Functional Response of Wolves to Human Development Across Boreal North America

Tyler Muhly
Cheryl Johnson
Mark Hebblewhite
Eric Neilson
Daniel Fortin
John Fryxell
Andrew Latham
Maria Latham
Philip McLoughlin
Evelyn Merrill
Paul Paquet
Brent Patterson
Fiona Schmiegelow
Fiona Scurrah
Marco Musiani
Resource Date:

The influence of humans on large carnivores, including wolves, is  a  worldwide conservation concern. In  addition human‐caused changes in carnivore density and distribution might have impacts on prey and, indirectly, on vegetation. We therefore tested  wolf responses to infrastructure related to  natural resource development (i.e., human footprint).

Our study provides one of the most extensive assessments of how predators like wolves select habitat in response to various degrees of footprint across boreal ecosystems encompassing over a million square kilometers of Canada.

We deployed GPS‐collars on 172 wolves, monitored movements and used a  generalized functional response (GFR) model of resource selection. A functional response in habitat selection occurs when selection varies as  a  function of  the availability of that habitat. GFRs can clarify how human‐induced habitat changes are influencing wildlife across large, diverse landscapes.

Wolves displayed a functional response to footprint. Wolves were more likely to select forest harvest cutblocks in regions with higher cutblock density (i.e., a  positive functional response to high‐quality habitats for ungulate prey) and to select for higher road density in regions where road density was high (i.e., a  positive functional response to human‐created travel routes). Wolves were more likely to  use cutblocks in habitats with low road densities, and more likely to use roads in habitats with low cutblock densities, except in winter when wolves were more likely to  use roads regardless of cutblock density.

These interactions suggest that wolves tradeoff among human‐impacted habitats, and adaptively switch from using roads to  facilitate movement (while also risking encounters with humans), to using cutblocks that may have higher ungulate densities. We recommend that conservation managers consider the contextual and interacting effects of footprints when assessing impacts on carnivores. These effects likely have indirect impacts on ecosystems too, including on prey species.