Effects of the Kenow wildfire on amphibian populations in Waterton Lakes National Park

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Hunter, Danial
University of Lethbridge. Faculty of Arts and Science
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Lethbridge, Alta. : University of Lethbridge, Dept. of Biological Sciences
As extreme events become more common, understanding how they impact wildlife populations, and imperiled wildlife populations in particular, is of heightened importance. In this thesis, I aimed to characterize how a very severe wildfire impacted amphibian populations in Waterton Lakes National Park in southwestern Alberta, Canada. In chapter one, I first reviewed the literature, highlighting gaps in our understanding of the impacts of wildfire on amphibian populations. I then conducted two studies to address a number of these gaps. Specifically, in chapter two, I investigated potential changes to breeding pond occupancy and species richness for four amphibian species in response to the Kenow wildfire. In chapter three of this thesis, I quantified changes to genetic diversity in long-toed salamanders using tissues collected in both burnt and unburnt parts of the park at time points spanning this severe wildfire. My results suggest that the Kenow wildfire did not have a major impact on amphibian occupancy in Waterton Lakes National Park. I further found that, although levels of genetic diversity changed for some sites across time points, the magnitude and direction of change varied considerably among sites, including among sites in both burnt and unburnt parts of the park. Altogether, these results suggest that the amphibian populations studied here were mostly unaffected by the wildfire. However, downward trends in occupancy and signatures of increased inbreeding for long-toed salamanders in the burn zone, highlight the need for continued monitoring of these populations and for evaluation of potential longer-term impacts of the Kenow wildfire on amphibians in the park.
Occupancy , Extreme events , Long-term monitoring , Genetic diversity , Amphibians , Wildfire , Kenow wildfire