Long-term monitoring of harvested mountain ungulates to improve their conservation and sustainable use

Long-term monitoring of harvested mountain
ungulates to improve their conservation and
sustainable use

Principal Investigator: Marco Festa-Bianchet (University of Sherbrooke)

Opportunity: Most populations of mountain sheep in Canada are managed for trophy hunting and all face ongoing or expected threats from climate change (White et al. 2018), exotic diseases from domestic livestock (Cassirer et al. 2018), and habitat degradation and fragmentation from human development (Epps et al. 2005). Shrinkage in horn size from excessive selective hunting affects the evolutionary sustainability of mountain ungulate hunting (Pigeon et al. 2016), an important land use of mountainous environments that has substantial ecological, social, recreational, and economic consequences. The possible roles of genetic rescue from protected areas, climate change, and changes in habitat in affecting horn size, however, have received less attention.

Objectives: We will answer the following questions: Is the evolution of smaller horns avoided or reduced by more conservative hunting regulations? What is the effect of refuge areas on ram horn size and genetic diversity? Do long-term changes in habitat, population density and weather account for changes in horn size?

Research Plan: We will focus on the effects of harvest regime, proximity to protected areas, climate change and changes in habitat quality on ram horn growth. Genetic data from horn cores and fecal samples will be used to assess connectivity among populations and to test whether or not genetic diversity is correlated with harvest intensity and distance from protected areas. For all species, annual horn increments measured over the last 40 years will provide an index to the possible effects of climate change. Our research will have a very strong ability to test our hypotheses because it will examine data from a combined total of about 35,000 harvested animals over 40 years. Our research team has been working on mountain ungulates for over 30 years.

Key Outcomes & Impact: Nonresident hunters pay tens of thousands of dollars to hire guides, and some Indigenous peoples either run guiding business or work for guides. Therefore, these species have considerable economic importance in Canada.

February 2020 Presentation: Mountain Ungulates

Other Team Members:
Fanie Pelletier (University of Sherbrooke), Dave Coltman (University of Alberta)