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By Jeff Green

Newfoundland and Labrador is a hot-spot for visitors but a research team has uncovered just how popular the island portion of the province is for non-native terrestrial mammals.

The Rock – as it turns out – is so popular that almost half of the terrestrial mammals living there come from away.

Understanding the island’s community of terrestrial mammals, both native and non-native, and their impacts, is the topic of Dr. Shawn Leroux’s collaborative research project with Memorial alumnus and current biology PhD student Justin Strong. Dr. Leroux is an assistant professor in the Department of Biology.

Not much is known about the relationships among different terrestrial mammal species or the impact of non-native mammals on the island’s terrestrial mammal food web.

Terrestrial mammals on the island of Newfoundland

First-ever terrestrial mammal food web

Using data collected from provincial documents on native and non-native terrestrial mammals, as well as consulting existing research from Memorial and beyond, the team set out to better understand when non-native terrestrial mammals appeared on the island – and ultimately the impact of their arrival over time.

Their research led to the development of the first-ever terrestrial mammal food web for the island. A food web is a map of who eats whom, which is typically gleaned from animal diet studies. The hope is that the research will help inform future resource management decisions.

“Some introduced animals, such as moose and snowshoe hare, are very important for the livelihood of Newfoundlanders, but these same species are having detrimental impacts on the island’s forest ecosystems by preventing the boreal forest from regenerating.” — Dr. Shawn Leroux

Big consequences

The team discovered there are some big consequences when non-native species are introduced. For a large animal with few predators – such as the mighty moose – it has had free reign over forests and it appears they are preventing the natural regeneration of boreal forest communities on the island.

The arrival of some non-native species has increased the number of prey available for predators such as the coyote, a top non-native predator, which has flourished since they first arrived on the island around 1985. The thriving coyote population could have a devastating impact on native mammals if not effectively monitored and managed.

However, the increase in prey species due to the arrival of some non-native species may have a positive impact on some terrestrial mammals previously considered endangered in Newfoundland. For example, the arrival of the southern red-backed vole to Newfoundland may be contributing to the recovery of the previously endangered and native species, American marten.

More detailed information about Dr. Leroux and Mr. Strong’s research has been published in the peer-reviewed, open access journal PLoS ONE.

Student: Justin Strong, PhD student

FunderNatural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada

This article is part of a bi-weekly collection of research profiles celebrating the contributions of Memorial researchers. Be sure to check back for future profiles.

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