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Factors driving range expansion of white-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus, in the boreal forest of northern Alberta, Canada Open Access


Other title
range expansion
climate change
white-tailed deer
land use
winter severity
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Dawe, Kimberly Louise
Supervisor and department
Boutin, Stan (Department of Biological Sciences)
Examining committee member and department
Fortin, Marie-Josee (Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Toronto)
Merrill, Evelyn (Department of Biological Sciences)
Nielsen, Scott (Renewable Resources)
Bayne, Erin (Department of Biological Sciences)
Department of Biological Sciences

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
A large suite of species, across numerous taxa, are expanding their geographic ranges, with potential impacts on species, communities and ecosystems. This has increased interest in understanding the mechanisms driving range change and anticipating future changes in species’ distributions. White-tailed deer have expanded their range into the boreal forest in North America. For northern ungulates, energy expenditure for thermoregulation and movement in winter can exceed energy gain from limited resources, leading to mortality. Substantial changes in climate and land use over the last half of the 20th century may have decreased winter energy loss or increased resource abundance, facilitating range expansion. The objective for this dissertation was to determine the relative importance of climate change and land use as drivers of white-tailed deer range expansion in northern Alberta and to predict how the range may change during the first half of the 21st century. I developed a method to calculate a winter severity index for white-tailed deer using widely available data, and used this mechanistically relevant metric of winter climate in a species distribution model analysis. White-tailed deer presence in the 2000s was explained by a positive relationship with land use footprint, deciduous forest, and growing season length and a negative relationship with winter severity and wetland. The only important land use footprints were agriculture, forestry, and well pads. Model predictions for the northern Alberta boreal region had relatively good accuracy, according to assessments with independent data from the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s decades. Climate was found to be the most important factor driving range expansion in this region. If the shifts toward less severe winters and longer growing seasons continue at the rate observed, white-tailed deer will be able to occupy the majority of the northern Alberta boreal by the 2050s. This increases concern for northern caribou populations and suggests wildlife managers in Alberta face big challenges now and into the future.
License granted by Kimberly Dawe ( on 2011-09-30T20:29:30Z (GMT): Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of the above terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis, and except as herein provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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