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Spatial dynamics of the rise and fall of caribou (Rangifer tarandus) in Newfoundland

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Understanding the relationship between abundance and distribution is central to ecology but may require broad-scale observations, especially for long-lived, mobile animals like caribou (Rangifer tarandus (L., 1758)). We tested the link between demography and spatial ecology of Newfoundland caribou, coincident with their numerical growth (1980s, 1990s) and decline (2000s). We analysed site fidelity, rate of movements, timing of migration, and population organization from telemetry observations of more than 600 adult females. Site fidelity was consistent across herds, intensifying near the onset of calving and peaking in late summer, a cycle that may reflect selection for postpartum security. Late-summer fidelity was stronger in the 1980s than 1990s, a trend that reversed itself during the 2000s. Weekly movements were lower in the 2000s, but with no clear differences between the 1980s and 1990s. Timing of migration changed: in the 2000s, spring migration of the Buchans herd occurred 3 weeks earlier and autumn migration 3 weeks later compared with the previous decade, the reversal of a 40-year trend. Herd affinities, revealed by fuzzy membership coefficients, diminished by the 2000s. These changes are consistent with the hypothesis of limitation by summer forage competition. Space use represents a useful gauge of numerical changes in caribou.

Keywords: Rangifer tarandus; caribou; demography; démographie; migration; philopatrie; philopatry; population structure; structure des populations

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, Trent University, 1600 West Bank Drive, Peterborough, ON K9J 7B8, Canada. 2: Sustainable Development and Strategic Science, Department of Environment and Conservation, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, St. John’s, NL A1B 4J6, Canada.

Publication date: 2013-01-01

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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