Adèle Michaud
Master student
Department of Biology
Laval University

Supervised by:

Steeve Côté (Regular member)

Research project description

Critical habitat of the Eastern migratory caribou (Rangifer tarandus) in Northern Quebec and Labrador

Introduction: In recent decades, the George River and Leaf River migratory caribou herds in northern Quebec and Labrador have declined dramatically. The Eastern migratory caribou are currently under consideration for formal listing under the Canadian Species at Risk Act. If listed, the identification of critical habitat for the species will be required by the federal government. Critical habitat is defined as areas containing the biophysical attributes necessary for the survival or recovery of a species. Its identification must take into account habitat quality and its influence on population distribution, the amount of habitat needed to meet population recovery goals, and functional connectivity. In order to ensure the sustainability of the migratory caribou herds of northern Quebec and Labrador, it is necessary to acquire knowledge on the type and quantity of habitat to preserve.Objectives: The main objective of our study is to address the lack of knowledge about the habitat required for survival of migratory caribou in eastern Canada by modeling the selection of habitat components by caribou. The habitat selection of migratory caribou from the Leaf River and George River herds will be assessed for five time periods (winter, spring migration, calving, summer, fall migration), at two spatial scales: the seasonal home range and the components within the seasonal home range. The acquisition of this knowledge is intended to contribute to the development of better planning of conservation strategies for migratory caribou in eastern Canada. Study sites: The ranges of the George River and Leaf River migratory caribou herds constitute the study area of this project. In Northern Québec and Labrador, these herds occupy an area of several hundred thousand square kilometers located mainly north of the 53rd parallel and extending to the 51st parallel during winter. The Leaf River herd uses the northwestern part of Northern Quebec and Nunavik. Its range extends from the James Bay region to the tip of the Ungava Peninsula. The estimated area of occurrence was 427,000 km2 from 2019 to 2020. The range of the George River herd is shared between Quebec, Labrador and Nunatsiavut. The estimated area of occurrence of the George River herd was 72,000 km2 from 2019 to 2021.Material and methods: Seasonal range use of migratory caribou will be analyzed using telemetry data obtained from the government's monitoring programs of George River and Leaf River herds. We will use the Brownian Bridge Movement Model, computed on R software, to model fall and spring migrations. The estimation of calving, summering and wintering areas will be done using the minimum convex polygon method (MCP). Habitat selection will be studied using resource selection functions (RSF). Vegetation cover type, plant productivity index (NDVI), elevation, slope, hydrography, and anthropogenic disturbance will be considered in the construction of habitat selection models. The creation of binomial generalized linear models will allow us to evaluate which variables are selected or avoided by caribou at each period of their life cycle.Expected results: Our study will identify the habitat variables selected by migratory caribou. These data will be useful in the development of a conservation plan that will have to meet the different needs of caribou over all periods of their life cycle, while adapting to climate change. Because of the complexity of managing and conserving migratory species due to the spatial and temporal dynamism of their life history, our project could also serve as a model for identifying critical habitat for other migratory species.

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