Mechanisms influencing the winter distribution of wolverine (Gulo gulo luscus) in the southern Columbia Mountains, Canada.

6 February 2019

Kortello, Andrea ; Hausleitner, Doris ; Mowat, Garth

To better understand the mechanisms driving the distribution of a threatened carnivore, wolverine (Gulo gulo), in the southern Columbia Mountains, we contrasted four hypotheses; climate, food, human disturbance and trapping harvest. We used non-invasive hair snagging methods to examine wolverine occupancy with respect to these factors, collectively and by sex, at a 5 km radius scale around sampling sites and at a larger 10 km radius to evaluate consistency over changes in scale. For all analyses our top models included food and human disturbance. Of the 4 food items examined; caribou (Rangifer tarandus), mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus), moose (Alces alces), and hoary marmot (Marmota caligata), wolverine occurrence was most closely related to hoary marmot habitat. With regards to human disturbance, we documented a negative association with forestry road density and a positive association with protected areas. The importance of climate was low compared to the food and disturbance hypotheses. Somewhat surprisingly, recent harvest was positively associated with subsequent wolverine presence. Our top 10 km scale models were similar to the 5 km scale, but with a stronger positive link to caribou distribution. We show that marmot habitat is important to wolverine in winter and suggest that management actions for conservation prioritize factors related to female occurrence, as these were more clearly defined than male. We demonstrate that human disturbance is a major driver of wolverine distribution. Protected areas appear to be providing secure habitat, and reducing road density or mechanized use of roads in winter should be considered for species conservation. A positive spatial relationship with recent harvest, in the context of a heavily harvested population, suggests that harvest data alone may not be useful in detecting population declines.