Author(s): Cole Burton
Published in: Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment (May, 2018)
Wildlife Winners and Losers in an Oil Sands Landscape
Energy development and consumption drive changes in global climate, landscapes, and biodiversity. The oil sands of western Canada are an epicenter of oil production, creating landscapes without current or historical analogs. Science and policy often focus on pipelines and species-at-risk declines, but we hypothesized that differential responses to anthropogenic disturbances shift the entire mammal community. Analysis of data collected from 3 years of camera trapping and species distribution models indicated that anthropogenic features best explained the distributions of the ten mammal species included in the study. Relative abundances of some mammals (such as white-tailed deer) were positively correlated with anthropogenic feature density, and others (such as moose and black bear) were negatively correlated. Effect sizes were often larger than for natural features. Increasing anthropogenic spatial complexity, access to multiple habitats, and new forage sources favor generalist predators and browsers, to the detriment of specialists, likely altering ecological processes. This issue has far-reaching implications: as the oil sands landscape changes so too does its mammal community, serving as a bellwether of future change for energy landscapes worldwide.
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