Research

Our research is designed to simultaneously test questions about biodiversity patterns, rare species detection, and species-habitat relationships.

Biodiversity Patterns

Parks and protected areas can play important roles in the maintenance of biodiversity, within their borders and within larger landscapes. Understanding a park’s potential ecological role within a regional context greatly assists in large-scale land-use planning, and also helps effectively manage park-specific issues. The need for such information is highlighted through regional planning processes like Alberta’s Land Use Framework, and through the identification of evidence-based decision making as a priority in park management in Alberta’s Plan for Parks.

The context of a Park is just as important as its content. To understand this context, biodiversity within a Park needs to be systematically compared to biodiversity outside that Park. To facilitate these ecological comparisons, we have designed a biodiversity sampling plan that builds upon the protocols and science of the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute (ABMI). We will compare data on ecological communities gathered via this project within the Willmore Wilderness to similar data collected by the ABMI from the surrounding landscape, and examine potential ecological mechanisms that may explain any differences between them. Ultimately our intent is to understand how the Willmore Wilderness contributes ecologically to the broader landscape. 

Rare Species Detection

Managing for biodiversity conservation requires information on species’ current status, future trends, and cause-effect relationships. Large-scale multispecies monitoring is a cost-effective approach, and the ABMI is a pioneer in this field. However, the effectiveness of multispecies monitoring is not uniform for all species, and is related (in part) to a species’ abundance and detectability. Uncommon species can go undetected in a systematic survey design not specifically targeted to rare and elusive species. Effective methods for monitoring rare and uncommon species remain to be developed and tested. Because of their rare nature, many of these species are listed as At Risk, Sensitive, May Be at Risk, or Data Deficient.

Alberta is home to 26 species listed as At Risk; these are well researched. However, there are 354 species listed as Sensitive, and another 578 species are May be at Risk or Status Undetermined, denoting a lack of information. These numbers have grown through time as more species are assessed. Few of these species have been researched. Gathering information on these species is a top priority for species-at-risk managers and is mandated under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA) and Alberta’s Strategy for the Management of Species at Risk (2009-2014).

We created and are testing new experimental designs for quantifying occurrence of rare and uncommon species in highly heterogeneous, diverse mountain landscapes. Examining how detectability of species in different taxa changes with sampling design will help us better research rare species in the future, and will inform conservation management.

Species-Habitat Relationships

Biodiversity monitoring tells us what species exist on a landscape, and where. To understand why they exist there, we need to analyse their patterns of occurrence and distribution in relation to their habitat characteristics and other species in their biotic communities. We are using data on plants, birds, and mammals to create statistical species-habitat models for these communities. We are testing hypotheses about the occurrence of species in relation to habitat features, and in relation to each other. This will allow us to make inferences about the ecological processes creating the patterns we observe. It will also allow us extrapolate our results to other landscapes, making them broadly applicable to biodiversity conservation. This analysis will help us better understand what species exist in the protected mountain landscapes, and why. This knowledge will help inform ecological theory, land-use planning, and particularly climate change management – a potentially key issue in this high-alpine landscape.