Evaluating the impacts of anthropogenic development on large mammals across protected and industrialized landscapes in Western Canada




Smith, Rebecca M

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Anthropogenic landscape development leads to substantial habitat loss and fragmentation, with large mammals among the most strongly impacted. In this thesis, I used wildlife camera traps across landscapes in Western Canada to investigate two landscape-level management actions for development. First, protected areas (PAs) control development within their boundaries, so they provide refuge to wildlife from many anthropogenic disturbances. Despite their prevalence, many PAs fall short of protecting species and habitats. Since PAs are intrinsically linked to their surrounding lands, pressures outside of PAs can be sources of mortality for mammals using habitat that spans boundaries. To improve our understanding, Chapter Two of this thesis examined the relative impacts of landscape development inside and outside of PAs on large mammals. Species occurrences were best predicted by models that comprised both inside- and outside-PA development, demonstrating that PAs do not offer the full protection they are mandated to. Most of the land on earth, however, remains unprotected, so conservation relies on species persistence in unprotected regions with active development. The composition and configuration of habitat resulting from development has been found to influence species distributions, but configuration is often disregarded as influential in landscapes with less than 70% total habitat loss. Chapter Three examines the relative influences of landscape composition and configuration on large mammal species distributions across a petroleum extraction region. Both configuration and composition were revealed as important, and the specific measures of configuration that explained species occurrence showed that resulting landscape configuration from development restructures the ecological mechanics of ecosystems. Together these results can be used to inform landscape management practices across North America to conserve large mammal species.



wildlife, camera trapping, landscape ecology, protected areas, configuration, large mammals, landscape structure, oil sands