Assessing disease prevalence and caribou health in west-central and north-western Alberta

Collecting baseline health data for Alberta caribou herds.

This project uses GPS from collared caribou to track locations of caribou mortalities. Results may be used to guide science-based restoration of caribou functional habitat across herd ranges.

Background

Health is increasingly recognized as a factor that may contribute to survival and reproduction in free ranging caribou populations. Certain pathogens as well as poor nutrition may kill caribou directly, while others can have more subtle, chronic or cumulative effects (e.g. compromised immunity, reduced body condition). These effects can include mortality and/or other population level impacts because of increased predation risk, reduced pregnancy rates, low calf survival and juvenile recruitment, or a diminished ability to cope with natural or anthropogenic stressors (e.g. severe weather, industrial development).

The relative importance of health of caribou is anticipated to increase as degradation and fragmentation of caribou ranges continues, and with climate change, as well as when range overlap with other ungulate species increases.

In Alberta, all caribou herds are in decline and many exist as small isolated populations. Within these already fragile populations there is an increased risk of compromised health, disease transmission or catastrophic disease outbreaks. This has the potential to alter the timeline and overall success of current caribou recovery actions in Alberta.

Objectives

To date there has been little focus on health and disease of caribou in Alberta. Ongoing research in BC boreal caribou herds by the British Columbia Boreal Caribou Health Research Program (BCHRP) has developed a health assessment model, including the identification of pathogens which may adversely affect caribou survival or reproduction, as well as new methods of assessing overall herd health. 

In collaboration with the BCHRP the fRI Research Caribou Program (fRICP) initiated investigations of caribou mortalities that have identified similar pathogens in Alberta. In light of these results, this project aims to expand upon on our existing research to carry out the first intensive health survey of boreal and southern mountain caribou herds in Alberta.

Our objectives for this project are to:

  1. Identify health baselines and woodland caribou populations that may be “at risk” from compromised health in Alberta
  2. Explore potential relationships between health and landscape features in WC Alberta.

Ultimately these can be used to develop practical management tools to monitor and maintain healthy caribou populations to caribou recovery in Alberta.

Ongoing
Mortality Site Visits

Rapid response team visits caribou mortality sites.

2015
Database built

Historical data and ongoing mortality site data compiled

2014
Project Begins

Preliminary results delivered to partners.

Spring 2016
Progress Report Completed

Peer reviewed paper from health data published

Nov-16
Paper Published

Preliminary results delivered to partners.

Spring 2017
Progress Report Completed
Landscape Features Associated with Caribou Predation
Infographics | Summaries and Communications
Results from a Caribou Program study.
QuickNotes | Summaries and Communications
Summary of a Caribou Program paper.
Scientific Publications | Peer Reviewed Papers
Peer-reviewed paper from the Caribou Program.
Caribou Health & Mortality in West-Central Alberta
Videos | Summaries and Communications | Audio-Visual | Presentation Slides
Laura Finnegan presenting at the PTAC Ecological Issues Forum.
Scientific Publications | Peer Reviewed Papers
Peer reviewed paper from the Caribou Program
Investigating a Caribou Mortality
Blog
The Caribou Program investigated the cause of death of a caribou from the Redrock-Prairie Creek herd.
Caribou Program Making Connections at the 2016 North American Caribou Workshop
Blog
fRI Research was out in force at the 16th North American Caribou Workshop in Thunder Bay.
Caribou Program Update: Data from Scat
Blog
Scat is a precious resource in ecology, rich in data that can tell us a lot about the size and health of herds.
Caribou Program Update – December 2015
Blog
The Caribou Program has a lot going on these days: field work, data analysis, paper writing and a brand new project! Here are some of the highlights.
Blog
Lakehead University and Lakeland College visited fRI Research to learn about our Grizzly Bear and Caribou Programs.
Announcement
Article from the Jasper Local newspaper regarding the fate of a caribou near Grande Cache.
Barry Nobert
Barry Nobert
Wildlife Biologist
Doug MacNearney
Doug MacNearney
Species At Risk Habitat Biologist
Karine Pigeon
Karine Pigeon
Wildlife Biologist
Dr. Laura Finnegan
Dr. Laura Finnegan
Program Lead
Terry Larsen
Terry Larsen
Biologist
Tracy McKay
Tracy McKay
Wildlife Biologist
Gord Stenhouse
Gord Stenhouse
Advisor