Peary caribou, muskoxen and their predators: the value of Indigenous Knowledge in informing species recovery

Regions: Inuvialuit Settlement Region

Tags: fish habitat, caribou, snow, climate adaptation, muskox, Indigenous knowledge

Principal Investigator: Humphries, Murray (2)
Licence Number: 17167
Organization: McGill University
Licensed Year(s): 2023 2022
Issued: Jan 06, 2023
Project Team: Cheryl Ann Johnson, George Arhonditsis, Alexandre Langlois, Rosemin Nathoo, Catherine Geoffroy, Manuelle Landry-Cuerrier, Erin Neave

Objective(s): To learn about how climate influences patterns of habitat use among Peary caribou, muskoxen and their predators, and how changes in forage availability/accessibility, competition with muskoxen and predation risk from species such as wolves, grizzly bears and polar bears are affecting Peary caribou populations.

Project Description: This licence has been issued for the scientific research application No.5417.

The objectives of this research project are to learn about: 1) how climate influences patterns of habitat use among Peary caribou, muskoxen and their predators; and 2) how changes in forage availability/accessibility (e.g. impacted by changing snow conditions, overgrazing by geese, etc.), competition with muskoxen and predation risk from species such as wolves, grizzly bears and polar bears are affecting Peary caribou populations (survival and reproduction). With this information, the research team hope to identify areas that are (and will be in the future under climate change scenarios) important for conservation for Peary caribou to inform a federal recovery strategy. Similar work is happening in 10 communities across the distribution of Peary caribou in NWT and Nunavut (including: Grise Fiord, Resolute Bay, Gjoa Haven, Cambridge Bay, Kugaaruk, Taloyoak, Ulukhaktok, Sachs Harbour, Paulatuk and Tuktoyaktuk).

This is a community-based research project, with the goal of co-creating knowledge between participants and researchers. The results of this research will provide insight into Peary caribou ecology in this area and will be combined with knowledge from other communities in the region to better understand how Peary caribou and other species are responding to climate-related stresses and to build tools that will help with their conservation into the future; and to understand what the effects of climate change have been on communities.

Data will be collected through structured workshops that include interview questions and methods for documenting patterns of habitat use (participatory mapping) and changes in abundance over time (proportional piling exercises with beads) of different species. Information collected via interview questions and discussion will be recorded in written notes and by audio recording. In each community, the workshop will take place over 4 days (Peary caribou, muskox, wolf, bears) and take approximately 4-5 hours per day. We will work through one species a day starting with Peary caribou. Data collection will be conducted in the fall of 2021 and winter of 2022 (but could be extended due to covid-19 restrictions) with follow up as needed with communities in subsequent years. Locally trained coordinators will help lead the workshops.

Data collected during the workshops will be integrated into statistical models that also include information related to rain-on-snow events and other indicators of snow condition as well as changes in vegetation conditions over time. These models will allow us to quantify past changes in the geographical distribution of the species and to characterize inter-annual variability in habitat conditions for muskoxen, wolves, grizzly bears, and polar bears. They will help to inform management actions for Peary caribou.

Since the preliminary stages of the project in 2019, there has been at least one to two calls per year with the four communities (Paulatuk, Sachs Harbour, Tuktoyaktuk, Ulukhaktok) and partners involved (local Hunters and Trappers Committees (HTCs), Wildlife Management Advisory Council (WMAC-NWT) and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK)) to present ideas, get feedback, and ensure co-development of research in accordance with the Inuit Science Strategy.

The research team will be performing calls with each HTC at least 4 times per year, or more if required, to continue co-developing the research and get their feedback. The research team will also continue annual calls with other partners.

The research team will also create a Facebook page for the project where the team will summarize results to allow members of the communities to have easy access to the information.

The results of this research will be circulated through student thesis, scientific meetings, and open access academic publications as well as through presentations in meetings with communities and partners. Results will also be shared through written reports for local partner organizations (WMAC, local HTCs) and communities as well as through community presentations, social media (e.g. Facebook) and infographic pamphlets. Proposed ways of disseminating the results will evolve to reflect the desired outcomes from partners as the work progresses.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from January 6, 2023 December 22, 2023.