Multispecies modelling reveals potential for habitat restoration to re-establish boreal vertebrate community dynamics.

Published online
24 Dec 2021
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Beirne, C. & Sun, C. & Tattersall, E. R. & Burgar, J. M. & Fisher, J. T. & Burton, A. C.
Contact email(s)

Publication language
Alberta & Canada


The restoration of habitats degraded by industrial disturbance is essential for achieving conservation objectives in disturbed landscapes. In boreal ecosystems, disturbances from seismic exploration lines and other linear features have adversely affected biodiversity, most notably leading to declines in threatened woodland caribou. Large-scale restoration of disturbed habitats is needed, yet empirical assessments of restoration effectiveness on wildlife communities remain rare. We used 73 camera trap deployments from 2015 to 2019 and joint species distribution models to investigate how habitat use by the larger vertebrate community (>0.2 kg) responded to variation in key seismic line characteristics (line-of-sight, width, density and mounding) following restoration treatments in a landscape disturbed by oil and gas development in northeastern Alberta. The proportion of variation explained by line characteristics was low in comparison to habitat type and season, suggesting short-term responses to restoration treatments were relatively weak. However, we found that lines with characteristics consistent with restored conditions were predicted to support an altered community composition, with reduced use by wolf and coyote, thereby indicating that line restoration will result in reduced contact rates between caribou and these key predators. Synthesis and applications. Our analysis provides a framework to assess and predict wildlife community responses to emerging restoration efforts. With the growing importance of habitat restoration for caribou and other vertebrate species, we recommend longer-term monitoring combined with landscape-scale comparisons of different restoration approaches to more fully understand and direct these critical conservation investments. Only by combining rigorous multispecies monitoring with large-scale restoration, will we effectively conserve biodiversity within rapidly changing environments.

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