Identifying indirect habitat loss and avoidance of human infrastructure by northern mountain woodland caribou

J. L. Polfus, M. Hebblewhite, K. Heinemeyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

112 Scopus citations


Understanding the impact of indirect habitat loss resulting from avoidance of human infrastructure is an important conservation priority. We evaluated resource selection for 10 global positioning system collared northern mountain woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) in British Columbia, Canada, with seasonal resource selection functions (RSF) developed at the second-order (landscape) and third-order (within home range) scales. To estimate how much habitat was lost due to avoidance, we estimated the zone of influence (ZOI) around multiple developments and modeled realized and potential habitat. Potential habitat was approximated by removing the ZOI from RSF models. By calculating the spatial difference between potential and realized habitat we estimated the amount of indirect habitat loss. Caribou displayed hierarchical avoidance of development, with the greatest avoidance occurring at the second-order. During both seasons caribou avoided high-use roads by 2. km and low-use roads by 1. km. In winter, caribou avoided town by 9. km compared to 3. km in summer. However, in summer caribou avoided mines by 2. km and cabins and camps by 1.5. km, while in winter when human activity was low, avoidance of these features was minor. As a result of avoidance of the cumulative ZOI, approximately 8% and 2% of high quality habitat was lost in the study area in winter and summer, respectively. Our study provides an approach to identify the extent and quality of habitat influenced by indirect avoidance. Conservation efforts should prioritize protecting areas of high quality habitat degraded by avoidance in the vicinity of human development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2637-2646
Number of pages10
JournalBiological Conservation
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2011


  • Cumulative effect
  • Habitat selection
  • Potential habitat
  • Rangifer tarandus caribou
  • Resource selection functions (RSF)
  • Zone of influence (ZOI)


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