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Habitat suitability, space use, and human-wildlife coexistence for wild river otters (Lontra canadensis)


Habitat suitability, space use, and human-wildlife coexistence for wild river otters (Lontra canadensis)

Lesage, Caroline (2023) Habitat suitability, space use, and human-wildlife coexistence for wild river otters (Lontra canadensis). Masters thesis, Concordia University.

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Land use change and urban sprawl increase the likelihood of encounters between humans and wildlife. River otters (Lontra canadensis) are a species that coexists, but also conflicts, with humans over the use of space on Protection Island, British Columbia. River otters are sensitive to human-induced disturbances yet also inhabit environments with relatively high densities of humans and anthropogenic structures. I investigated the effect of human activity and disturbance on river otter use of space and behaviour to elucidate implications for habitat suitability and wildlife management in anthropogenic landscapes. I drew on 23 semi-structured core interviews and 18 surveys to discuss the human-otter dynamics on the island and perceptions of river otter behavior among residents. I then investigated the relative importance of anthropogenic (e.g., distance to buildings and roads, level of human use of docks), environmental (e.g., land cover type), biological (distance to dens), and topographic (elevation) variables for habitat suitability in wild river otters sharing their environment with humans. I used maximum entropy (MaxEnt) species distribution models to identify the most important factors for river otter habitat suitability and space use in anthropogenic landscapes. Two scenarios were modeled with MaxEnt using 660 and 207 occurrence points respectively. I found that the most suitable habitats for North American river otters in this study were areas of low elevation, with exposed land as the dominant land cover type, near water or wetlands, and that river otters and humans are able to coexist quite well, at least in some urban contexts. Finally, I performed Pearson’s Chi-squared tests on 594 observations from 178 behavioural samples to evaluate three hypotheses focusing on behavioural differences among river otters associated with the use of an anthropogenic habitat feature (i.e docks), and land. The results indicated that river otters used docks more than would be expected by chance and, disproportionately for individual and social activities and they used docks more than expected during the overnight period. Overall, this suggests docks may act as an anthropogenic habitat attractant for river otters. This study helps clarify relationships between river otter behaviour and space use in landscapes they share with humans and in environments where anthropogenic structures are present, which can inform the development of targeted conservation initiatives and enhance human-wildlife coexistence.

Divisions:Concordia University > Faculty of Arts and Science > Geography, Planning and Environment
Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Authors:Lesage, Caroline
Institution:Concordia University
Degree Name:M. Sc.
Program:Geography, Urban & Environmental Studies
Date:7 July 2023
Thesis Supervisor(s):Turner, Sarah E.
ID Code:992689
Deposited By: Caroline Lesage
Deposited On:16 Nov 2023 16:58
Last Modified:16 Nov 2023 16:58
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