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Is global warming impacting the Okanagan’s bobcat and lynx population?

KELOWNA – They’re not often seen, but bobcats are an intriguing and elusive part of the Okanagan’s wildlife population. Bobcats and lynx are at the forefront of a UBC Okanagan (UBCO) study. The research is aimed at tracking the rarely seen animals’ migration patterns but could also implicate global warming.

“Historically, their range has been limited to areas with little snow, so in the United States and just the most southern regions of Canada, because they have really short legs and small feet so they sink into the snow,” says UBCO Master’s student, TJ Gooliaff.

But are bobcats moving northward or into higher elevations? That’s the question behind Gooliaff’s research. He says the possible migration trend could be impacting lynx as well.

“For the bobcat, it sounds like a positive story for them because they are expanding their range, but for other species, it might not be such a good story. For example, the lynx, which is adapted to snow, their range, we suspect, might possibly be contracting at the expense of the bobcat’s expansion,” says Gooliaff.

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With little existing research on the topic, Gooliaff is reaching out to the public for help with his study. He is asking people across the province to send in photos of bobcats and lynx from any period of time to try and determine the current provincial distribution of each species.

“We are asking people with trail cameras or just point-and-shoot cameras, who have pictures of lynx or bobcats to send them to us, and tell us where they took it and when,” says Associate Professor of Conservation Biology Karen Hodges, who is overseeing Gooliaff’s work.

Wildfires are another factor the biology department is considering in its research. Master’s student Jenn Hutchen is looking into the impact fiery Okanagan summers have on snowshoe hares which are the primary prey for lynx.

“Lynx are very closely tied to snowshoe hare population numbers. So if there’s not enough hares in an area to even sustain even a single lynx, the lynx won’t be found in that area anymore even if the forest might be suitable for them,” says Hutchen.

All three researchers agree that at the heart of the animals’ potential migration northward is climate change.

“Snow levels are dropping, so now, suitable bobcat habitat exist north of their previous range deeper into areas of B.C.,” says Gooliaff. “No one has actually looked into whether they are actually taking advantage of these new habitats.”

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If you have a photo of a bobcat or lynx anywhere in the province, you’re asked to submit it to Gooliaff by email: tj.gooliaff@ubc.ca along with the date and location of each photo.

Gooliaff hopes to publish his findings in late 2017.

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