Impact of rewilding, species introductions and climate change on the structure and function of the Yukon boreal forest ecosystem

Rudy Boonstra, Stan Boutin, Thomas S. Jung, Charles J. Krebs, Shawn Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Community and ecosystem changes are happening in the pristine boreal forest ecosystem of the Yukon for 2 reasons. First, climate change is affecting the abiotic environment (temperature, rainfall and growing season) and driving changes in plant productivity and predator–prey interactions. Second, simultaneously change is occurring because of mammal species reintroductions and rewilding. The key ecological question is the impact these faunal changes will have on trophic dynamics. Primary productivity in the boreal forest is increasing because of climatic warming, but plant species composition is unlikely to change significantly during the next 50–100 years. The 9–10-year population cycle of snowshoe hares will persist but could be reduced in amplitude if winter weather increases predator hunting efficiency. Small rodents have increased in abundance because of increased vegetation growth. Arctic ground squirrels have disappeared from the forest because of increased predator hunting efficiency associated with shrub growth. Reintroductions have occurred for 2 reasons: human reintroductions of large ungulates and natural recolonization of mammals and birds extending their geographic ranges. The deliberate rewilding of wood bison (Bison bison) and elk (Cervus canadensis) has changed the trophic structure of this boreal ecosystem very little. The natural range expansion of mountain lions (Puma concolor), mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) and American marten (Martes americana) should have few ecosystem effects. Understanding potential changes will require long-term monitoring studies and experiments on a scale we rarely deem possible. Ecosystems affected by climate change, species reintroductions and human alteration of habitats cannot remain stable and changes will be critically dependent on food web interactions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-138
Number of pages16
JournalIntegrative Zoology
Volume13
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018
Externally publishedYes

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