Project Goal & Objectives
The goal of this project is to investigate ecosystem productivity (the rate of vegetation growth) and phenology (the timing of vegetation growth through the seasons) across the entire range of the Bathurst caribou herd over the past two decades. Areas of increased vegetation productivity are described as “greening”, while “browning” describes areas where productivity has decreased. We seek to identify linkages between these changes and significant shifts in herd distribution and habitat use during the same period.
The project is rooted in three basic research/monitoring questions and objectives:
- Question: How has vegetation productivity and phenology changed across the Bathurst caribou herd’s range over the last two decades? Objective: Map annual changes in vegetation productivity and phenology across the entire range of the Bathurst caribou herd using satellite imagery obtained from NASA, so as to identify where the most significant changes have occurred.
- Question: To what extent have increases or decreases in woody plant growth and abundance contributed to greening and browning in undisturbed portions of the herd’s range? Objective: Gather data on the growth, establishment, and mortality of trees and shrubs by establishing vegetation plots and conducting tree/shrub ring sampling at several of the most significant locations of change.
- Question: How have annual and seasonal distribution and habitat use of the Bathurst caribou herd changed during the monitoring period and what is the relationship between these changes and the mapped changes in vegetation productivity and phenology within their range? Objective: Use available satellite and GPS collar data to map seasonal range of the herd on an annual basis and analyze changes in timing and extent of range use in relation to the observed vegetation change.
Ryan is the project’s principal investigator, overseeing all science and reporting components. Ryan has conducted scientific research in Northern Canada and Alaska for the last twenty years, with a focus on understanding the drivers and consequences of ecosystem change and their implications for conservation and resource management, particularly at large spatial scales. Ryan is Head of the School of Environmental Studies and Associate Professor cross-appointed in the Department of Geography and Planning at Queen’s University (Kingston, Ontario) where he teaches courses in landscape ecology, biogeography, wildlife conservation, and ecosystem management.
Greg is an assistant professor of environmental science at the University of Alberta Augustana located in Camrose, Alberta. He began his research career working on ecology and biogeography projects in northern Canada. After a brief sojourn to the alpine environments of Switzerland for his PhD, he returned to northern Canada for research on alpine and latitudinal treelines. Greg will be using tree and shrub rings to provide greater understanding of landscape change in the Bathurst caribou range and potential implications for habitat and land-use.
Carolyn is a conservation biologist whose career has spanned environmental consulting, public outreach and education, and protected areas planning across eastern Ontario. Long intrigued by Northern and Arctic ecosystems, she is particularly interested in how wildlife and vegetation have adapted to their present geographical distribution and how species distributions are shifting in response to a warming climate. For her Ph.D. research at Queen’s University, Carolyn is investigating recent changes in vegetation productivity across the Bathurst caribou herd’s range.
Robin is a first-year master’s student at Queen’s University who is researching whether the Bathhurst caribou herd is changing their migration routes as a result of climatic factors. He was born and raised in Yukon and as a result is passionate about issues affecting the North. He is especially fascinated with northern ecosystems and how they will be affected by climate change.
Emily was an Environmental Biology student at Queen’s University. She worked as a research assistant to the 2018 NWT project while carrying out her own fieldwork to investigate factors influencing spruce germination in the study area. Her Honours thesis, Microhabitat of Tree Seedlings at Latitudinal Treeline, Northwest Territories was supervised by Dr. Ryan Danby. Now working toward an M.Sc. at the University of British Columbia, Emily hopes to pursue a future of environmental research in relation to the changing climate and looks forward to contributing to the scientific community in the years to come.
Joel is a professional photographer and Environmental Studies and Outdoor Education student at University of Alberta Augustana. He worked as a research assistant to the 2018 NWT project. In addition to helping with the research, he is using photography, videography, and design to clearly communicate the scientific work we’re doing.
Danielle was an Environmental Studies student at Queen’s University who completed her Honours project under the supervision of Dr. Ryan Danby. Her thesis, Differences in Vegetation Composition and Structure at Greening and Non-greening Sites in the Northwest Territories, Canada, analyzed vegetation community data collected during the 2018 NWT project. Danielle is interested in the effects that rising temperatures have on northern ecosystems and hopes to pursue future research pertaining to environmental adaptation to climate change.