Timber harvesting and climate change are predicted to reduce future habitat suitability for boreal caribou in Quebec

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Yan Boulanger, Mathieu Leblond, Jesus Pascual Puigdevall & Martin-Hugues St-Laurent

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Most boreal populations of woodland caribou in Canada are declining. These declines are likely the result of widespread anthropogenic pressures, yet climate change is expected to exert an increasingly negative influence on caribou populations in the coming decades. It is still unclear how human activities and climate change will influence habitat suitability for caribou at the supra-regional scale, and how important these agents will be relative to each other. In this study, we modelled boreal caribou habitat suitability across most of the commercial forest in Quebec for the period 2020-2100 under three climate scenarios (baseline, Representative Concentration Pathways [RCP] 4.5 and 8.5) and two harvest scenarios (no harvest and ecosystem-based forest management) using the LANDIS-II forest landscape model. Our analyses showed that timber harvesting was the dominant agent explaining future variations in habitat suitability in Quebec, although climate change is also expected to decrease habitat suitability, especially under RCP 8.5. Climate-induced decreases in habitat suitability were mostly related to an increase in natural disturbances at the expense of old conifer and mixed stands. Caribou habitat suitability by 2100 also varied spatially, with the northeastern part of the study area appearing as a potential “cluster” of suitable habitat for caribou regardless of climate and harvest scenarios. Slowing down harvest activities in areas where habitat suitability is currently high could contribute to maintain high habitat suitability even under more intense climate change scenarios. Our results also suggest that regions with currently very low habitat suitability may not improve unless active habitat restoration is performed.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

Pre-approved for CECs under SER's CERP program