Mountain pine beetle (MPB) threatens vast areas of lodgepole pine forest. However, the impact of MPB infestations on wildlife whose habitat consists largely of pine forest remains largely unknown. In particular, wide ranging species such as caribou and grizzly bear may be significantly impacted. Understanding how caribou and grizzly bear may respond to pine forests killed by MPB would fill an important knowledge gap in Alberta, and will provide information that could be used to support conservation and recovery goals for these provincially threatened species.
The first objective of this research is to develop models that quantify the habitat value of lodgepole pine forest to caribou and grizzly bear, and to evaluate changes in habitat value for caribou and grizzly bear following MPB infestations (~10 years since tree death) in west-central Alberta. We hypothesize that following MPB infestation and tree death, the habitat value of pine for caribou will decrease associated with a decline in terrestrial lichens, whereas for grizzly bear the habitat value of pine will increase as vascular and herbaceous plant species increase. The second objective of this research is use the caribou and grizzly bear habitat models to develop an interactive GIS-based planning tool. The tool will allow managers to predict changes in caribou and grizzly bear habitat conditions based on user-defined MPB scenarios.
- Habitat models will provide improved knowledge of caribou and grizzly bear response to pine forest unaffected and affected by MPB. Because we will conduct the analysis at multiple scales, we will be able to understand the habitat value of pine forests to caribou and grizzly bear alone and in the context of the broader landscape. Scale is an important consideration because as forest species composition and human activity levels changes across the landscape, so does habitat conditions for caribou and grizzly bear.
- An interactive GIS tool that integrates the caribou and grizzly bear habitat models will allow users to run MPB infestation scenarios and predict associated changes in habitat conditions.
- A workshop will be held for forest practitioners as an introduction on how to use the tool. Participants will be encouraged to engage the group relative to their own management questions and needs.
- The information and tool generated from this research will assist managers in making planning decisions that supports caribou and grizzly bear recovery.