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Quantifying how much evolutionary changes can affect population trajectories and other important ecological processes is central to understanding how species will cope with large-scale human driven environmental changes. Using recently developed methods to decompose population growth in an age-structured population into contributions from variation in a quantitative trait, we now have a framework that renders it possible to link ecological and evolutionary dynamics. Thus, the main objective of my research program aims to understand how environmental variation (anthropic or natural) can lead to changes in behaviour, life history and population dynamics and to evaluate if those changes have consequences on ecological and evolutionary dynamics of those populations. To achieve this goal, I use three model-based systems: the bighorn sheep, the racoons and the tree swallows.

 

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Bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis)

The Ram Mountain study was initiated in 1971 and over the last 40 years more than a thousand sheep were monitored from birth to death. Research on this population has contributed substantially to bighorn sheep management and is part of a collaborative effort involving marked ungulate populations elsewhere in Alberta and in Europe. Recently, research has expanded to male reproductive success, population genetics and selection on morphology and life-history evolution.

Ram Mountain (52°N, 115°W) is an isolated mountainous outcrop located ~ 30 km east of the main Canadian Rockies (Alberta). The range used by the sheep is ranging from 1700 to 2200 meters in altitude and is approximately of 38 km2. It is characterized by subalpine and alpine vegetation. The weather at Ram Mountain is harsh and unpredictable. Snow cover usually persists from November to May but snowfalls have been recorded in all months of the year. The field camp is usually open from late May to late September. During that period, our work consists mostly of censuring and capturing sheep. Regular captures and census provide us with detailed information on population size and composition, and on the survival, weight changes, horn growth and reproduction of marked individuals. We capture the sheep in a corral trap baited with salt. Sheep are particularly attracted to salt in late spring. Captured sheep are weighed and measured. This allows us to document growth over the entire lifetime of each sheep. Ram Mountain is one of the rare studies where repeated measurements of the same individual are collected within a season. This allows us to study the patterns of growth throughout ontogeny, development of sexual dimorphism and the effects of environmental variations on these processes.

Collaborators on this project: Marco Festa-Bianchet and David Coltman

 

 

 

Raccoon (Procyon lotor)

The racoon study was initiated in 2008. The main objective of this study is to evaluate the potential for rabies propagation in southern Québec. To do so, we use an integrative approach combining landscape ecology, genetic, behaviour and population dynamics. Although several studies have documented the biology of racoon, none has monitored survival, emigration and reproduction of marked animals over several years.  That information is critical, as demographic parameters of host species are the basis of epidemiologic models used to predict the disease’s potential spread. Understanding the demographic and behavioural dynamics of wildlife populations considered like rabies’ reservoirs is therefore essential to prevent an epizootic of this disease.

Our work on the field is mostly located in southern of Québec, where all rabies cases have been identified. This research combines two longitudinal studies, one over the whole of southern Québec scale, the other focused on a population of marked individuals in Parc national du Mont Orford (45°21'N, 72°13'W). We capture the raccoons in a Havahart trap baited with sardines. After the chemical immobilisation, captured raccoons are weighed, measured, sexed and marked with a pit tag and an ear tag. In addition, an ear biopsy is taken for genetic analysis. The population located in the Mont Orford provincial park is monitored more intensively. Individual monitoring of racoon was initiated in 2008. Since then, survival, reproductive success, pattern of growth and behaviour of marked animals are recorded.

Collaborators on this project: Dany Garant, Julien Mainguy and Daniel Fortin

TV report "Des ratons sous surveillance" - Campus, Season 5, Issue 43, Coverage 5 (french only)

 

 

 

 

Tree swallow (Tachycineta bicolor)

Aerial insectivore, a group of birds mostly represented by swallows, are particularly at risk facing the intensification of farming.  However, there is a lack of knowledge about the mechanisms by which agriculture influences the fitness and life-trait history of individuals, and ultimately population dynamics. The general objective of this project is to identify factors that affect tree swallow behaviour, life history, survival and reproduction in farmland.

Tree swallows are found in Québec and they are known to rapidly colonize nest-boxes to reproduce. The swallow population that we study is found in a network of 400 nest-boxes located on 40 farm, which are distributed in an agricultural intensification gradient covering ~10 200 km2 in southern Québec. Nest-boxes are distributed  to cover various contrasting landscapes that go from extensive farmland areas (a mosaic of dairy farms and woodlands supposed to be landscape of better quality due to elevated reproductive success and to a higher nestling growth) to intensive farmland areas (huge annual single-crop farming – corn, soybean, etc.). Each year, all birds in our nest-boxes are captured, sexed (adults are sexed by morphology and nestlings by DNA), age (only females and nestlings), measured and ringed and, also, their parasitic load (Protocalliphora) is assessed. Between 2004 and 2013 (10 years), near 10 000 individuals, of which more than half as nestlings, have been ringed and the occupation rate of nest box is ~50% annually. The spatial scale and the range of environmental variation is unique for a long term study.

To manage and conserve wild populations, it is critical to identify the factors affecting individual survival, reproductive success and population dynamics at the landscape scale.  The tree swallow study offers unique opportunities to identify the key factors involved in the decline of farmland birds.

Collaborators on this project: Marc Bélisle and Dany Garant

 

 

 

   

 

Scandinavian brown bear (Ursus arctos)

Hunting can have several effects on wildlife populations, going beyond the direct reduction in population abundance. We now recognize that hunting can also have indirect effects on the ecology and evolution of exploited populations. For instance, through the differential removal of individuals possessing particular phenotypes, artificial selection can lead to evolutionary changes in hunted populations. Our research group is interested in the study of the direct and indirect consequences of hunting on the demography, life history, behavioral ecology and evolution of phenotypic traits of a heavily hunted population of brown bears in Scandinavia. To do so, our group collaborates with the Scandinavian Brown Bear Project (SBBP).

Since 1984, the SBBP carries out a long-term longitudinal monitoring of the Swedish brown bear population. The SBBP aims at collecting information on the distribution, individual movements, ecology and demography of this population in order to provide the knowledge and tools necessary for the adequate management of the Scandinavian brown bear. Each spring, bears are captured and morphometric measures are taken. Bears are also equipped with a VHF/GPS-GSM collar allowing the relocation of individuals throughout the year and monitoring of female reproductive status. Moreover, following the Swedish law, hunters have to report each killing of bears to local authorities. Therefore, it is possible to evaluate hunting mortality and its impact on the dynamics of the population. The SBBP long-term monitoring program, combined with the high hunting pressure on the population, represents a unique opportunity to address the direct and indirect effects of hunting on the ecology and evolution of a wild large carnivore.

Collaborators on this project: Andreas Zedrosser and Jon Swenson

 

 

 

   
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Département de biologie, Faculté des Sciences Université de Sherbrooke, 2500 boul. de l'Université, Sherbrooke, QC, J1K 2R1