Michael A. Sawaya, Ph.D. (Parks Canada, Sinopah Wildlife Research Associates)
Anthony P. Clevenger, Ph.D. (Western Transportation Institute)
Michael K. Schwartz, Ph.D. (United States Forest Service)
Wolverines (Gulo gulo) are one of the rarest and least understood mammals in North America. Despite growing threats from habitat fragmentation and climate change, very little is known about the current status of most wolverine populations. The Trans-Canada Highway (TCH) with its heavy traffic volume bisects Banff and Yoho National Parks, fragmenting the parks' wildlife populations. To combat the impacts of roads on wildlife and improve human safety, wildlife crossing structures and exclusionary fencing have been constructed along the TCH; however, little is known about how roads impact wolverine populations or how highway mitigation measures perform for wolverines. In winter 2011, Dr. Anthony Clevenger initiated a 3-year noninvasive genetic sampling study to gain a better understanding of Banff and Yoho's wolverine population and to promote conservation through education and citizen science. Whole beaver carcasses were tacked 2m high in trees to entice wolverines to climb trees, leaving their hair on circles of barbed wire for genetic analysis. In 2013, Dr. Sawaya was awarded an NSERC Visiting Fellowship with Parks Canada to work with Dr. Clevenger and Dr. Michael Schwartz (Director-National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation) to examine the effects of transportation on fine-scale genetic structure of wolverines.
1) to examine the effects of transportation infrastructure on fine-scale genetic structure of wolverines in the Central Canadian Rocky Mountains.
2) to estimate density of the wolverine population in the Central Canadian Rocky Mountains.
We examined whether transportation corridors affect wolverine movement and gene flow in the Central Canadian Rocky Mountains by using hair traps and remote cameras to sample an 8000 km2 area of Banff, Yoho and northern Kootenay National Parks and part of the Columbia Valley near Golden, B.C..
We collected 2563 hair samples between 2010 and 2013 from which we detected 64 unique individuals (25 females, 39 males). Out of 75 hair trap locations sampled, 60 (80%) produced at least one individual identification. More than one individual was detected at 39 of the 75 sites (52%). Many female and male wolverines were found in the study area, but the two sexes were affected differently by transportation infrastructure. We detected male movement across the TCH and a lack of genetic structure. However, we detected relatively strong genetic differentiation in females across the TCH. We detected 7 wolverines that crossed the TCH (2 females, 5 males), possibly one of the females at a wildlife crossing structure. Evidence suggests that females may be starting to use wildlife crossings so we strongly recommend continued monitoring at wildlife crossing structures on the TCH, particularly the newly constructed crossings that were constructed in wolverine habitat. Gender information can be used to evaluate different crossing structure types and determine the preferred designs for female movement.
For more details, see Chapter 4 (PDF) of the Banff Wildlife Crossings Project final report.
Banff-Yoho Wolverine Project