Understanding processes and mechanisms resulting in observed ecological patterns is critical information for biologists charged with effectively managing and conserving wildlife populations. In many areas across North America woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou Gmelin) populations are declining, as are caribou and reindeer populations globally. Why these declines are occurring is a key research question of biologists and managers.
I investigated factors influencing recruitment of mountain-dwelling woodland caribou using long-term time series from ten herds (populations) in the Yukon Territory, Canada (Yukon). Recruitment was indexed by the calf:cow ratio observed during the fall breeding season using data collected during aerial monitoring surveys.
I first examined the seasonal effects of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), on observed recruitment in these herds. The PDO was positively related to recruitment and had its strongest effect during the winter preceding birth and immediately before calving. These results indicate that female body condition, and hence conception rates, were not affecting observed recruitment patterns. Rather, parturition and/or early calf survival were the most likely vital rates affecting the number of calves being recruited into the breeding population.
I next examined the interacting effect of large-scale climate (PDO) and predation [wolf (Canis lupus L.) density] on recruitment in the Finlayson herd of east-central Yukon. A large-scale wolf control program in the 1980s allowed me to assess recruitment over a range of wolf densities and climatic conditions. The effect of the PDO immediately before calving was negligible when wolf numbers were significantly reduced indicating the climatic effect was modified by wolf density. Additionally, as springtime climate improved (i.e. increasing PDO) the difference in recruitment between years with and without wolf removals was reduced.
|School:||University of Alaska Fairbanks|
|School Location:||United States -- Alaska|
|Source:||DAI-B 72/01, Dissertation Abstracts International|
|Subjects:||Wildlife Conservation, Ecology|
|Keywords:||Caribou, Pacific Decadal Oscillation, Rangifer tarandus caribou, Recruitment, Yukon Territory|
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