Wolverine conservation in the Canadian Rockies is taking a new turn, and you can become a citizen scientist helping these magnificent creatures!
Description of the project and research questions being asked
Our research is situated in the heart of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. This vast area is recognized as critical for harboring important source populations that potentially disperse to and populate more fragmented and disturbed ecosystems to the south, east and west. However, the bustling 4-lane Trans-Canada Highway is recognized as a lethal barrier to wildlife and a fracture zone for population connectivity. As the expansion of the TCH moves up Banff National Park’s Bow Valley, it becomes the first attempt ever to introduce highway mitigation at the spine of the Continental Divide and within core wolverine habitat.
We know wolverines are highly sensitive to human disturbance. There is anecdotal information they rarely cross even 2-lane highways. Given highway expansion projects planned in wolverine range in the US and Canada, it will be critical to understand how growing transportation networks affect wolverine movement and gene flow within the natural connected habitat network they rely on for continued survival.
The goal of our work is to noninvasively genetically sample the wolverine population in Central Canadian Rockies to assess whether gene flow and movement of individuals is blocked by a major transportation corridor. We surveyed the wolverine population during winter 2010-11, and will repeat the survey this winter (2012-13). We are collecting information on their occurrence (from cameras) and population genetics (from noninvasive hair sampling). However, funding limitations have hampered our ability to extract the most data from our extensive hair sampling effort. Our findings will be used to inform transportation practitioners planning the design of highways within wolverine range.
What your money can do
During our winter 2010-11 survey, we skied over 2000 kms, working in teams of two, and more on long backcountry trips. By May, we collected thousands of the most beautiful and curious wolverine photographs you could imagine, AND 900+ hair samples, of which 125 were analyzed for wolverine DNA. Given the hard work we and the citizen scientists put into hair sampling: deep snow, bitter cold, and long work days with short daylengths, we must mine our data to it’s fullest.
Because of budget constraints, last winter only analysed a fraction of the samples. The cost of DNA extraction, species and individual identification (and gender) is $95/sample. We are preparing for our final survey and season of sampling, which wil run from December through April. With our funding goal realized, we will be able to analyze 100 samples, double from last year. This will provide a more thorough and accurate genetic analysis of highway effects, and will make many hard-working volunteers smile at the end of the day.