One way species may adapt to climate change is through phenological adjustments—changes to the timing of life events like reproduction and hibernation. For Columbian ground squirrels, which occur in the northwest Rocky Mountains, the end dates of hibernation can differ by as much as one month between high and low elevation populations.
Using translocations between high and low elevation populations, we tested the potential for this species to shift the timing of hibernation in response to climate. These translocations also helped to test ways to move mammals between populations, which could be soft-release systems that may be required if re-location is to be used as a conservation strategy.
Our climate-based species projections have shown that Alberta’s hill systems, like the Marten Mountains and Buffalo Head Hills, may act as important remnant locations of suitable climate, called “climate refugia”, for boreal birds and plants as climate change progresses. But these rugged places are typically under-surveyed, so we know little about the patterns of biodiversity in these hilly regions.
We initiated a project to identify the species currently present in hill systems throughout the province. The data help us validate current and future model predictions of species distributions, and better understand the potential responses of boreal biodiversity to climate change.