Their findings could lead to a change in how the endangered populations are managed due to their unique genetics and behavior. For example, the Little Smoky population in Alberta has been declining for over a decade because of human-caused habitat changes that are believed to be altering predator-prey relationships. Genetic analyses confirm that the Little Smoky population is different from other caribou populations in west-central Alberta, and is likely the last remnant of distinct boreal caribou along the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies.
The study, which was supported by Weyerhaeuser, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Shell Canada, Parks Canada, and Alberta Department of Sustainable Resource Development, concludes that new conservation plans may be required to reflect the mountain caribou's unique nature.
"It is impossible to predict all the impacts of something like climate change, but we know that migration has been an important adaptive response in the past, and so it is best to preserve this unique genetic and behavioral variability to better enable caribou to adapt to an uncertain future," Weckworth said.
|Contact: Grady Semmens|
University of Calgary