Movement Responses of Caribou to Human-Induced Habitat Edges Lead to Their Aggregation near Anthropogenic Features

Daniel Fortin
Pietro-Luciano Buono
André Fortin
Nicolas Courbin
Christian Gingras
Paul Moorcroft
Réhaume Courtois
Claude Dussault
Associate Editor: Wolf Mooij
Editor: Judith Bronstein
Resource Date:

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The assessment of disturbance effects on wildlife and resulting mitigation efforts are founded on edge-effect theory. According to the classical view, the abundance of animals affected by human disturbance should increase monotonically with distance from disturbed areas to reach a maximum at remote locations. Here we show that distance-dependent movement taxis can skew abundance distributions toward disturbed areas. We develop an advection-diffusion model based on basic movement behavior commonly observed in animal populations and parameterize the model from observations on radio-collared caribou in a boreal ecosystem. The model predicts maximum abundance at 3.7 km from cutovers and roads. Consistently, aerial surveys conducted over 161,920 km2 showed that the relative probability of caribou occurrence displays nonmonotonic changes with the distance to anthropogenic features, with a peak occurring at 4.5 km away from these features. This aggregation near disturbed areas thus provides the predators of this top-down-controlled, threatened herbivore species with specific locations to concentrate their search. The edge-effect theory developed here thus predicts that human activities should alter animal distribution and food web properties differently than anticipated from the current paradigm. Consideration of such nonmonotonic response to habitat edges may become essential to successful wildlife conservation.