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Migration, stress, and animal health: Using movement ecology to support conservation for narwhal and other marine mammals in the Arctic

January 20, 2023 @ 11:00 am - 12:00 pm


Speaker: Dr. Courtney Shuert
Postdoctoral Fellow, IOF’s Statistical Ecology Research Group & Fisheries and Oceans Canada

The compounding and accelerating effects of climate change are rapidly altering the environment that animals experience. While every animal may experience stress throughout their life-history, alterations to the physical and biotic environment, soundscape, and phenological cues can increase stress beyond an individual’s ability to cope. Marine mammals in the Arctic are surmised to be among the most sensitive to the increasing stressors of climate change and have already been shown to exhibit changes to individual behaviour, health, and more. Understanding how we can monitor these effects requires tackling the problem from multiple angles, considering the differential effects of both acute, such as seismic activity or disturbance, and chronic stressors, such as climate change, on individuals. While high-resolution telemetry data and advanced modelling techniques now provide extensive detail of the movements of individuals, only a few studies to date have attempted to directly infer changes in physiological parameters from movement behaviour, and the continuous collection of physiological data in the field is still in its infancy. This talk will focus on understanding how stressors may influence movement ecology and how an understanding of movement ecology may be used to minimize future stressors. It will focus on narwhal in the Canadian Arctic as a case study and will examine movement ecology in response to both acute and chronic stressors and how insights from movement ecology may be used in a conservation perspective for future environmental change. Dr. Shuert will further extend these findings to other species and systems as well as the needs to develop a toolkit for assessing animal health and movement into the future.