Wildlife Research Station

  Algonquin Provincial Park  

Current Research


For current research going on at the WRS, please see the most recent Research Report


Long-term Research Projects


Currently there are projects going on at the WRS that have been in progress for over 50 years! Some of these projects are listed here and can be viewed in more detail by visiting the researchers websites by clicking the links below.



Small Mammal Research - 63 years running


The 63th year of data collection in one of the world’s longest-running small mammal studies witnessed the highest abundances of woodland jumping mice yet recorded in this
area. In 1952, Bruce Falls started a series of small mammal traplines near the Wildlife Research Station that have been monitored consistently ever since in partnership with Dr. Ron Brooks (professor emeritus University of Guelph) and Dr. Andrew McAdam (University of Guelph)


Using Sherman live-traps, they captured a total of 1731 small mammals between May 5 and August 19, 2010. Each animal was identified, weighed and marked with a small metal ear tag before being released.

For the first forty years of the study, jumping mice were rarely captured. In the early 1990’s, however, jumping mice started to become more common, but their abundances have fluctuated over the past 20 years. In particular, the number of jumping mice has dropped dramatically in some years.

The small mammal traplines established by Bruce Falls in the 1950’s represent a wonderfully valuable and unique resource that will provide important insights into the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of small mammals in Algonquin Park for many years to come.




Gray Jay Research in Algonquin Park - 50 years running


Gray Jay research in Algonquin Park began back in the 1960s. The late Russell J. Rutter (1899-1976), a well-known Ontario naturalist, was working in the Park at the time and became intrigued by the Gray Jays. He decided to use a new technique called colour-banding to identify individual Gray Jays and see what he could learn of the Gray Jay's then almost completely unknown ecology and nesting behaviour. Every jay was given its own unique combination of coloured plastic and standard aluminum bands and promptly released. From then on it could be recognized as an individual, and given a name, according to its band combination. With the use of this one simple technique, and many hours of follow-up observations of course, Russ was able to begin the long process of sorting out the basic biology of Gray Jays. He was the first to determine that Gray Jays lived on permanent territories, that they lived for a very long time, and that they tended to nest in the same general area, year after year.

Later, the Algonquin Gray Jay study was taken over by Dan Strickland. Since the early 1980s Dan and volunteer helpers have been finding about 20 nests each year, banding the young, and following the fortunes of adults and young alike. Since Dan's retirement in 2000, he has been able to devote even more time to the study, now one of the longest-running studies of a marked population of vertebrates anywhere in the world. In partnership with Dr. Ryan Norris of the University of Guelph (www.norrislab.ca) the study of Gray Jays in Algonquin has led to new and valuable insights into their ecology and behavior.



Painted and Snapping Turtle Life History Research - 43 years running



The long-term Snapping and Painted turtle project based at the Wildlife Research Station celebrated its 40th field season in 2011. Data has been collected on Snapping turtles since 1972, and Painted turtles since 1978. Over this time period, about 2000 individual turtles have been captured, marked and released at several study sites.


Turtles are very long-lived organisms and this makes long-term studies, like this one, necessary to understand the entirety of their life history strategy. In this project, data is gathered on survival, growth, reproduction, and individual movements.

This allows us to begin to answer questions such as: How long do Snapping and Painted turtles live? What is a Painted turtle’s reproductive rate? What are the seasonal movements of Snapping and Painted turtles?




Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology of Mammals - 11 years running

(Northern Flying Squirrels and Red Squirrels)


Since 2004, northern flying squirrels and red squirrels have been the subjects of a long-term study examining the evolutionary and behavioural ecology of these species. These marked populations have been used by three MSc students, and numerous undergraduates to test research hypotheses. Data collected include morphological measurements, ecto- and endoparasite samples, tissue samples for genetic profiling, and faecal samples for hormone analysis.

In 2010, the numbers of squirrels on the study site was much reduced compared to 2009 - the populations of both species declined by over 50%.
Last year we confirmed the presence of a zoonotic bacteria (Coxiella burnettii) in a number of species including red squirrels and northern flying squirrels.

This year, an experimental approach was explored, with testosterone implants being used to assess the effects of testosterone on the immune system and parasite loads in red squirrels, and, as part of collaborative project with the Toronto Zoo, a new study on the effects of stress hormones on parasite loads in the eastern chipmunk was also initiated.




Reproductive Ecology of White Throated Sparrows - 10 years running


Since 2005, Dr. Scott Ramsay has been conducting research in Algonquin Park focusing on the causes and consequences of variation among female white-throated sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis) in the timing of nest initiation, and the number and size of eggs laid.


Factors that may influence these variables are spring temperature and precipitation, and patchlevel habitat differences such as the amount of food available leading up to egg-laying and the food availability for nestlings when they hit their peak demand. Females may also base some of their decisions on the characteristics of their partners, including the prospects male provisioning effort, which in whitethroats is related to morph.


Some interesting patterns are starting to emerge from the data, including a strong influence of clutch initiation date on the likelihood of a nest surviving to fledging. I am also interested in various aspects of the songs of male white-throats including their utility as an indicator of male identity in the absence of banding information for estimating year-over-year survival rates. Finally, I am also using stable isotope analysis of feathers grown prior to spring migration to estimate where the white-throats that breed in
Algonquin Park spend the winter. The data so far suggest that males winter farther north than females, tan-striped individuals winter farther north than white-striped individuals, and many of the birds in our population never leave Ontario in the winter.


For more information on these projects and for recently defended theses, please see the Research Reports and/or visit the researchers websites on the Links page.





BLISS: Bat Lake Inventory of Spotted Salamanders - 13 years running


The Yellow-spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) has a well established breeding population at Bat Lake, and for 2-4 weeks every spring male and female salamanders can be readily observed entering and leaving the lake, depositing over one thousand egg masses.


Until recently, observations of salamander abundance at Bat Lake have been primarily anecdotal, with no long-term records. The primary purpose of this research is to collect information on relative abundance of spotted salamanders at Bat Lake, with the aim of assessing climatic influences on a natural amphibian population.



Given that salamanders typically breed in temporary water bodies, long-term assessments of the health and fluctuations in populations is made difficult due to the potential for habitats to disappear from year to year. Bat Lake, however, is a permanent water body, devoid of fish predators, and thus serves as a stable reference source for monitoring the effects of environmental change on salamander populations.


We have amassed information since 1992, demonstrating that the first egg laying date of the season has shifted earlier in the season at an average rate of about 0.88 days/year. This first egg lay date is also correlated strongly with yearly variation in spring temperatures (expressed as the number of days in April above 0°C); thus changes in local climate are the likely driver for alteration in reproductive timing in these early spring breeding amphibians.
Figure 1. Yearly trends in the earliest laying dates (Julian date) for Ambystoma maculatum since 1992.   

Figure 2. Cumulative count of Ambystoma maculatum egg masses. 


This project will become another long-term monitoring project operating out of the WRS, and will enhance our understanding of salamander breeding phenology. Our anticipation is that our yearly egg mass counts, sex ratio data, trap capture numbers, and morphological data on salamander size will provide us with a complete picture of the health and status of these lesser known amphibians of Algonquin Park.




Ecology of Yellow Bellied Sapsuckers - 2006 to 2010




The yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius), is a common bird in the hardwood and mixed wood forests of Eastern Canada. It is a cavity nester, creating nests in snags or trees with heart rot. These cavities are often later used by other species of cavity dwellers. Sapsuckers also create holes through the bark of deciduous trees to access the nutrient rich sap, again providing other species a service in terms of access to this nutrient rich food source. In addition to nesting cavity trees and sapwell trees, sapsuckers also require trees to hunt for insects, another main food source. Having an obviously high reliance on forest composition, it is important to understand how logging affects the ecology of this important bird species.

By banding and aging 165 birds over two years, and locating over 300 nests, the success of sapsuckers in different forest and harvesting types can be examined.


Several main research findings include;

- the higher suitability of heart-rotted trees such as beech for nesting

- if these trees are not available, they may select others which are soft and easy to excavate

- in this softer wood, nest predation by black bears is much higher

- however, they appear to learn quickly and will switch territories to increase nesting success

( a phenomenon not previously observed for this migrating bird species)
- on the other hand, birds that successfully nest one year will almost always stay in the same territory, although 40% of them switched trees
- nesting success and survivorship is highest in aspen and maple-beech forests not logged for the past 60 years or more
- this may be due to more suitable nesting trees, as well as less overall distance to travel for suitable feeding trees

This research highlights the importance of selection logging to leave good nesting habitat, rather than removing trees with heart rot to
improve stand composition for harvest. It is also interesting that sapsuckers seem to use their previous experiences in the selection of
nests. This implies that bear predation may be a threat the sapsuckers have not previously encountered, so they do not have a programmed response.



The Natural History and Reproductive Ecology of Antler Flies (resumed 2012-2013)



Discovered in Algonquin Park in the mid 1990s, antler flies (Protopiophila litigate) are a unique species of fly, living out the majority of their life cycle on discarded moose  (Alces alces) antlers. They breed and lay eggs on the antlers, and individual flies have defined territories.


These characteristics make the antler fly ideal for study, as individuals can be marked, tracked, and otherwise observed throughout their life cycle. Current work is investigating
topics such as mating success, aging, and territory defense.




  Last Updated: January 22, 2015    
Wildlife Research Station, P.O. Box 49 Whitney Ontario, K0J 2M0, Canada

Telephone: (705) 633 - 5621 E-mail: wrs@vianet.ca


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