Objective 1: Identify factors related to habitat suitability for Algonquin wolves and wildfire risk
Through the assessment of supplementary academic literature, the following factors were identified as important in assessing potential viable wolf habitats in Algonquin Provincial Park. The factor associated with wildfire risk to be used in subsequent objectives is also identified.
Factors Affecting Habitat Suitability
Factor 1: Distance from Water
Availability and accessibility of water resources is a fundamental requirement for the success of all living things. Home sites of wolves have historically been detected almost exclusively in close proximity to water (Joslin 1967). It has been observed that wolves preferentially select home sites near water bodies and/or close to wetlands (Benson, Mills and Patterson 2015). For wolves, several additional motives exist for the selection of den sites close to water. Pup survival rates have been positively correlated with proximity to prey species such as beavers, which primarily inhabit water courses (Benson, Mills and Patterson 2015). Based on these observations, close proximity to water ways provides an ideal location for viable habitat.
Factor 2: Distance from Roads
Roads play a significant role in the success of wolves. Research has shown that there is a negative relationship between roads and wolves as a result of human-induced road mortality (Mladenoff et al. 1999). It has been identified throughout relevant literature that Algonquin wolves, as well as multiple other wolf species throughout North America, tend to avoid areas with high road densities for den selection. More specifically, wolves favourably select den sites closer to tertiary roads and at greater distances from secondary and primary roads (Benson, Mills and Patterson 2015).
Factor 3: Land Cover
The availability of undeveloped and productive land suitable for wildlife habitat is continually declining as a result of disturbance from a variety of natural, climatic, and anthropogenic factors. Of the forested landscapes within Algonquin Provincial Park, certain types have been determined to be better suited to den establishment. Benson, Mills and Patterson (2015) concluded that conifer forests provide the best habitat, followed by wetlands, and then deciduous forests. Wolves establish dens in areas with significantly high proportions of pine and lower proportions of hardwoods (Norris, Theberge and Theberge 2002).
Factor 4: Slope
According to Benson, Mills and Patterson (2015), wolves marginally selected steeper slopes to establish den sites, as excavation is facilitated on hills. Based on this research, regions with moderately higher slopes are more suitable for den site selection.
Factors Affecting Wildfire Risk
Factor 1: Hazardous Forest Types for Wildland Fire
Algonquin Provincial Park has a long history of forest fires resulting from both natural and anthropogenic causes (Cwynar 1977). Natural Resources Canada (2016) predicts a future increase in forest fires due to climate change, especially in the boreal forest. With increased risk for wildfire, there is an increased risk for suitable habitat loss for Algonquin wolves. Following fire and other disturbance, the abundance of canids (including wolves) generally decreases (Fisher and Wilkinson 2005). The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (2014) proposes that certain forest (fuel) types are associated with moderate to extreme risks of wildland fire. Data are provided in raster format delineating wildfire risk in categories of extreme, high, moderate, low, and pine (needs evaluation) using the Canadian Wildland Fire Information System (Natural Resources Canada 2017). The fuel types associated with each risk are described in Table 1.
Based on this information, it is presumed that areas comprised of extreme and high-risk forest types are most susceptible to disturbance that would ultimately result in habitat loss. For the purpose of this study, this is assumed to be an accurate representation of fire risk in Algonquin Provincial Park.