Canada’s caribou have survived multiple ice ages, natural events like forest fires and insects that have disseminated their food sources, and, in recent past, rebounded from overhunting once the pressure was removed. In a way, they are a resilient species, adapting over time to survive in different landscapes.
However, even a resilient species cannot adapt overnight to significant changes in their landscape that directly undermine their survival strategies. Caribou are vulnerable to extensive fragmentation of their landscape, which for various reasons exposes them to more predators and decreases their access to food sources. Here is one – though by no means the only – way it happens:
- Human activity fragments forest: Logging, road-building and other forms of development like mining and oil and gas extraction fragment the caribou's Boreal forest habitat.
- Competitors & predators move in: When a disturbed forest begins to regrow, it provides lots of food for moose and deer, which in turn attract more of their primary predator, the world. The more open landscape also allows the wolf to be a more effective hunter.
- Caribou disappear: Increasing wolf numbers kill off, or extirpate, local populations of woodland caribou. The animals are left with fewer places to go where they can find food and safety from predators.
As the climate changes, natural pressures like fires and pests may also result in increased amount of young forests occurring in the landscape, further amplifying the direct human impacts on the landscape.
© Lauren Holly Best, all rights reserved