Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MSc)

Department

Biology

Program Name/Specialization

Integrative Biology

Faculty/School

Faculty of Science

First Advisor

Jennifer Baltzer

Advisor Role

Supervisor

Abstract

Climate change is altering the boreal wildfire regime through increases in the extent and severity of burning and reductions in fire return intervals. These changes can alter the regeneration trajectory of canopy species and ground vegetation, with implications for wildlife habitat. There is some uncertainty about the timelines of when different animal species will use burned areas as their preferred forage taxa recover following fire, and how such recovery is mediated by environmental factors. Here, we aim to address these knowledge gaps through the following questions: 1) What are the main forage types consumed by boreal wildlife and how much dietary overlap is there among taxa?, 2) How does time after fire affect boreal vegetation recovery and how do environmental factors mediate recovery processes? and 3) Can information on post-fire community assembly processes be used to anticipate periods of habitat selection by different boreal wildlife taxa and where overlap in timing of use may occur? A literature review examining the diets of several boreal wildlife taxa (e.g., caribou, moose) was performed to identify major forage types. Vegetation data collected from 581 plots in the Northwest Territories, Canada, ranging from 1 to more than 100 years post-fire, was then used to model trends in the relative abundance of key forage taxa for different wildlife species, and to test the influence of time after fire and local environmental conditions on plant community composition. Time after fire was a significant driver of boreal vegetation recovery, but accounted for only a small proportion of total community variation. Patterns of post-fire recovery varied greatly among forage species and were often strongly mediated by soil moisture. This suggests that, although time after fire influences wildlife forage over the long-term, site-specific environmental conditions are also important and should be considered when assessing the implications of increased fire activity. The results of this research are intended for use by northern communities, to help anticipate and plan for the consequences of increased burning, and by land-use managers charged with the effective conservation of wildlife habitat.

Convocation Year

2021

Convocation Season

Fall

Available for download on Tuesday, September 27, 2022

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