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Path Tortuosity and the Permeability of Roads and Trails to Wolf Movement

Jesse Whittington, University of Alberta
Colleen Cassady St. Clair, University of Alberta
George Mercer, Jasper National Park

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Abstract

Few studies have examined the effects of human development on fine-scale movement behavior, yet understanding animal movement through increasingly human-dominated landscapes is essential for the persistence of many wild populations, especially wary species. In mountainous areas, roads and trails may be particularly deserving of study because they are concentrated in the valley bottoms where they can impede animal movement both across and between valleys. In this study, we tracked wolf (Canis lupus) movement in the snow for two winters in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada to examine how wolves navigate through or around human-use features. We quantified the effects of human development and topography on the tortuosity of wolf paths and then tested the permeability of roads, trails, and a railway line to wolf movement by comparing the frequency with which actual wolf paths and a null model of random paths crossed these features. Wolf path tortuosity increased near high-use trails, within areas of high-trail and road density, near predation sites, and in rugged terrain. Wolves crossed all roads, trails, and the railway line 9.7% less often than expected, but avoided crossing high-use roads more than low-use trails. Surprisingly, trails affected movement behavior of wolves equally, if not more, than roads. These results suggest that although roads and trails in this study were not absolute barriers to wolf movement, they altered wolf movements across their territories.
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087