White on white is hard to see. It is especially difficult when what’s white is a mountain goat tucked into the nooks and crannies at the top of a mountain. These elusive animals cling to the windswept peaks of the coastal mountains of British Columbia where they find relief from warm summer temperatures and the eyes of predators. Yet this hardy mountain species faces a rapidly changing environment.
Alpine ecosystems are profoundly affected by climate change. Temperature increases, as well as alterations to the timing and length of the growing season for important plant food species, may create unfavourable conditions for mountain goat survival and reproduction. In the coastal mountains of British Columbia, observations by the Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nation indicate that goats are not often found in areas they once inhabited.
To better understand how climate change might affect the distribution and abundance of this culturally, ecologically, and economically important species, Raincoast’s Applied Conservation Science Lab has partnered with the Kitasoo/Xai’xais Nation and BC Parks to launch a new research program on mountain goats in the coastal mountains of BC.
By systematically searching mountain tops for the presence or absence of mountain goats, we can begin to understand what habitat conditions and terrain types support greater numbers of mountain goats. Furthermore, we can gain insight into how large-scale changes to ecosystems associated with climate change shape the distribution and abundance of species. In this way, mountain goats serve as a “sentinel” or “indicator” of the magnitude of the effects of climate change on alpine ecosystems.
Having completed the first year of field work this past August, our initial results point toward a very low density population of mountain goats on the coast relative to other areas of the province – consistent with observations from the Kitasoo/Xai’xais. Living at the geographical and physiological limits of the species, even small changes in the habitat of mountain goats may have a large impact on the population.
As we launch into analyzing the newly collected data, we are eager to better understand the patterns in goat observations that we have found. Ultimately the successful management of this species, whether through the direct stewardship of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais or provincial management plans, hinges upon a foundational understanding of their ecology in the context of a rapidly changing environment.
A version of this article was first published at the University of Victoria.
Become a Raincoaster
Giving to Raincoast enables you to protect what you love most.
For 25 years, Raincoast has been furthering biodiversity conservation in BC. Thanks to your generous donations, among many other accomplishments, we have been able to end commercial trophy hunting of large carnivores in over 38,000 square kilometers of the Great Bear Rainforest, begin acquiring forest land in order to protect threatened Coastal Douglas-fir ecosystems, aid recovery of endangered Southern Resident killer whales by restoring Chinook salmon habitat, and establish a university research lab dedicated to applied conservation science. Strong partnerships are integral to our success.
Our efforts need to be maintained and advanced, now more than ever. As the biodiversity and climate crises collide, your support allows us to continue to make tangible conservation gains.
Biodiversity protection is the most important gift we can give the next generation. Join us as a Raincoaster today!