Diets of Overwintering Caribou, Rangifer tarandus, Track Decadal Changes in Arctic Tundra Vegetation
Keywords:Caribou, Rangifer tarandus, diet, fecal analysis, climate change, habitat, Western Arctic Herd
AbstractWe compared winter diets of Western Arctic Herd Caribou (Rangifer tarandus) from 1995/1996 and 2005 using microhistological fecal analysis on samples collected at paired permanent vegetation transects. Changes in the diets of Caribou followed the same trends as vegetative changes documented in long-term studies in northwestern Alaska. Lichens were significantly less prevalent on the landscape and in the winter diets of Caribou between 1995/1996 and 2005, while graminoids (grasses and sedges) were significantly more prevalent. Dramatic changes are forecasted for Arctic ecosystems under global warming scenarios which may continue the trend of declining lichens in northwestern Alaska and in the diet of Western Arctic Herd Caribou. The question of whether or not the altered diet will affect the population dynamics of this herd remains unresolved.
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