Wolverine Distribution and Habitat Associations on Registered Traplines in Alberta Winter 2011/12 - 2015/16


Shevenell Webb, Bill Abercrombie, Robert Anderson, Brian Bildson, Michael Jokinen, Neil Kimmy, and Doug Manzer


Alberta Trappers’ Association and Alberta Conservation Association (ACA) collaborated on a
unique citizen science partnership to determine broad-scale distribution and habitat
associations of wolverines using long-term fur harvests, trapper questionnaires and field data.
We conducted a detailed review of historical fur harvests to examine how wolverine
distribution has varied across the province over time. We then conducted a questionnaire
survey with trappers to determine locations where wolverines were present or absent,
perceptions of wolverine population trends, trapper attitudes and effort, and course-scale
habitat associations based on trappers’ responses. The final component of our study relied
largely on trapper volunteers to inventory wolverines on their registered traplines. We collected
field data using non-invasive run pole camera traps designed to photograph wolverines so
biologists could differentiate individuals based on unique throat and chest markings. Trappers
donated tissue samples from harvested wolverines, and the run poles collected hair samples for
genetic (DNA) analysis. This report discusses our findings from the early stages of testing
methods in various regions of the province between 2011 and 2013 to the later stages of
inventorying wolverines and other wildlife in the Boreal Forest between 2013 and 2016.

In total, 154 run pole camera traps were operated by 31 trappers, along with ACA staff, on
56 registered traplines in the Boreal Forest (2013 – 2016). The camera traps were effective at
detecting a wide range of species and worked particularly well for attracting furbearers.
Cameras detected wolverines at about 33% of the sites, fishers at 57% of the sites, and lynx at
49% of the sites. In total, 56 different wolverines (16 males, 10 females, 30 unknown) were
identified from photos taken in the Boreal Forest (2013 – 2016). We also identified lactating
females (n = 6; 2011 – 2016) and documented interesting behaviours between species and
individuals. In the Boreal Forest, we detected wolverines from 56° to 59°N (n = 115 sites), but no
wolverines were detected from 54° to 56°N (n = 39 sites). Wolverine occurrence was positively
associated with undeveloped forest, deeper winter snow depths, and a cooler theoretical
temperature index, and negatively associated with density of roads and oil and gas wells.

We identified five wolverine haplotypes (A, C, D, F, L) from hair and tissue samples. In the
Rocky Mountains (n = 13 individuals), the genetic analysis indicated that Crowsnest Pass and
Grande Cache areas had similar haplotypes, “A” (54%) and “L” (46%). In the Boreal Forest
(n = 70 individuals), haplotype “C” (also found in the Cascade Mountains of Washington and
southern British Columbia, Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Saskatchewan) and
haplotype “A” (found in the western United States and across Canada) were most prevalent
(C: 47%; A: 33%). Haplotype “F” (17%) and haplotype “D” (3%) were the least common
haplotypes in the Boreal Forest, but our study was the first to identify haplotype “D” in
wolverines from Alberta.

Non-invasive camera traps maintained by trapper citizen scientists were successful at detecting
wolverines and many other wildlife species, demonstrating the potential usefulness of cameras
in long-term monitoring studies. Working directly with passionate stakeholders to plan and
implement research had mutual benefits. This collaborative effort has increased our
understanding of wolverine ecology, behaviour, and habitat associations, particularly in the
Boreal Forest, and will be a timely contribution to an updated species status assessment in the

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