Caroline Deslongchamps
Master student
Department of Biology
Laval University

Supervised by:

Steeve Côté (Regular member)

Co-supervised by:

Martin-Hugues St-Laurent (Regular member)

Research project description

Impacts of roads and traffic on the behavioural responses of migratory caribou

Introduction: Linear structures such as roads can modify the space-use and habitat-selection behaviour of ungulates. Roads act as semi-permeable barriers to the movement of these animals and restrict access to high-quality habitats on either side of the road. The impacts of roads on migratory caribou have been shown in Nunavik, where caribou used less the habitat across a mining road than the habitat on the other side. These results are particularly concerning given that the road and associated network are located near the calving grounds of the Rivière-aux-Feuilles herd, whose abundance has greatly declined in recent decades. As an expansion of this road network is currently being considered, mitigation measures must be implemented to minimize the impact of roads and traffic on caribou.Objectives: The main objective of my project is to quantify the impacts of mining transport on the behavioural responses of caribou and to identify mitigation measures to minimize these impacts. My project aims to address four specific objectives, namely to assess the impacts of roads and traffic on i) the fleeing behaviour of caribou; ii) the spatiotemporal distribution of caribou near roads; iii) the probability of crossing the road at a fine scale; and iv) to measure the effectiveness of traffic mitigation measures on the behavioural responses of caribou based on the results of objectives i, ii and iii.Study sites: The study site is located in Nunavik, in the northern part of the Rivière-aux-Feuilles herd's summer range and near its calving ground. Most of the summer range lies north of the 55th parallel, from Hudson Bay to Ungava Bay. In the northern part of the summer range, industrial development includes the Raglan and Canadian Royalties Inc. mines and associated facilities, including roads. The road network operated by the mines is still underdeveloped and is used almost exclusively for transportation related to mining activities. The entire network extends over 300 km, with year-round traffic.Material and methods: Using direct observations, I will observe groups of caribou located within 1,000 m of the road. I will conduct group scans to quantify the spatiotemporal distribution of individuals in relation to the frequency of vehicle passages. To quantify the fleeing behaviour of caribou, I will analyse the number of individuals fleeing as a function of vehicle type, number and speed, as well as the distance of caribou from the road. During behavioural observations, I will also record crossing events to evaluate how they vary in relation to traffic. I will also measure and compare road characteristics between sites where caribou have crossed and sites where no crossings have been observed. In collaboration with both mining companies, we will conduct experiments to measure the effectiveness of traffic mitigation measures, including speed modulation and vehicle convoys.Expected results: My project will provide a better understanding of caribou behavioural responses to roads and traffic modulation to identify and propose mitigation measures to minimize the impacts of roads. I will identify, among other things, the vehicle speed at which fleeing behaviour is considerably reduced. I will also assess the effectiveness of reducing the frequency of passages on the probability of caribou crossings. Based on these results, I could suggest reducing the frequency of vehicle passages and their speed during the periods when caribou are found in very large numbers in the vicinity of the road network. Finally, using road structure analyses, I will identify sites with characteristics that are favorable to caribou crossing the road. I could then propose road improvement measures to facilitate the movements of caribou.

Research Site Coordinates

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