The Canada lynx is a classic Canadian species.This snow-and cold-loving carnivore has super-sharp vision, allowing it to spot mice 75 metres away, and an acute sense of hearing, which is sharpened by those cool ear tufts. It also has extra-large feet with toes that can be fanned out like snowshoes, allowing them to spring through the snow with ease. Snowshoe hare is the favourite meal for lynx, and historically their populations have gone up and down along with that of the hare.
Now, something else besides hare populations is affecting lynx. MNRF scientists and partners have discovered that the range of lynx in Ontario has been shrinking. In fact, since the 1970s, the southern edge of this species’ range has moved about 175 km north! At the same time, the climate has been warming and snow depth has been reduced, but scientists don’t yet have enough evidence to put all the blame on climate change.
Another possible culprit is not-so-friendly competition from bobcat, a lynx cousin. While the southern part of lynx range has been shrinking, the range of bobcat has been expanding up from the Great Lakes states into Ontario. Scientists have also found that lynx and bobcat can interbreed, although that’s pretty rare. In the future, if such inbreeding continues, it could result in loss of genetic diversity especially in lynx, the more vulnerable of the two cats.
What we are doing
To help improve our understanding of what’s happening between lynx and bobcat in Ontario and why, MNRF scientist Jeff Bowman, and partners from Trent University and the University of Toronto, are studying two possible scenarios:
- Canada lynx is pulling back from the southern edge of its range due to climate change (avoiding areas with reduced snow depth), leaving an opening that the bobcat is only too happy to take advantage of.
So where are scientists testing these scenarios? They are focusing mostly along the north shore of Lake Huron between Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury, which is one area where lynx and bobcat ranges currently overlap.
- Bobcat is taking advantage of milder winters to move farther north, and lynx is pulling back in response to having a savvy competitor.
We will report back on findings of these studies as they become available. This research is made possibly partly through funding from Ontario's Fish and Wildlife Special Purpose Account, and will help those who make management decisions about lynx and bobcat.