Mammal Seismic Line Use Varies With Restoration: Applying Habitat Restoration to Species at Risk Conservation in a Working Landscape

Erin Tattersall
Joanna Burgar
Jason Fisher
Cole Burton
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This resource is available on an external database and may require a paid subscription to access it. It is included on the CCLM to support our goal of capturing and sharing the breadth of all available knowledge pertaining to Boreal Caribou, Wetlands, and Land Management.

Restoration of degraded habitats is increasingly used to mitigate the effects of anthropogenic landscape change on wildlife populations, but wildlife responses to habitat restoration are often assumed rather than verified. In the western Canadian boreal forest, restoration of seismic lines-linear corridors cut for oil exploration-has been proposed to mitigate declines in woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) driven by altered predator-prey dynamics in industrialized landscapes. Seismic lines fragment caribou habitat, facilitate predator (wolves Canis lupus and black bears Ursus americanus) movements, and may enhance apparent competition from white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and moose (Alces alces). Here, we tested the assumption that restoration provides immediate wildlife conservation benefits, using a caribou-boreal forest case study. We used camera traps to monitor seismic line use by caribou, their competitors, and predators following restoration in northeastern Alberta. We assessed species responses to four line strata: two restored (active and passive) and two unrestored (human-use and control). Three-to-six years after restoration, white-tailed deer preferred unrestored seismic lines over actively restored lines, while wolves preferred human-use lines but did not avoid restored lines. Caribou preferred lines in lowland habitat and lines surrounded by low linear density regardless of restoration. Species responses to restoration were muted, indicating that restoration alone may not be immediately effective in stabilizing threatened caribou populations. Our results highlight that wildlife responses to restoration must be tested. We recommend rigorous wildlife monitoring following restoration, particularly when the indirect, interspecific effects of habitat change drive species endangerment or recovery.