Characteristics of Early-Winter Caribou, Rangifer tarandus caribou, Feeding Sites in the Southern Purcell Mountains, British Columbia

Trevor A. Kinley, John Bergenske, Julie-Anne Davies, David Quinn


Mountain Caribou are a rare ecotype of Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) inhabiting the high-snowfall region of southeastern British Columbia, and are defined by their late-winter reliance on arboreal hair lichen of the genus Bryoria. During early winter, there is considerable variation in habitat use among populations. We snow-trailed Caribou in the southern Purcell Mountains during early winter to determine foraging patterns for the Purcell population. When snow was ≤51 cm deep, Caribou fed on Grouseberry (Vaccinium scoparium), the terrestrial lichen Cladonia, and arboreal lichens of the genus Bryoria. When snow was ≥62 cm deep, they ate exclusively arboreal lichens. In both periods, Caribou ate arboreal lichen from essentially every downed tree or branch encountered and fed with a higher intensity at downed trees than standing trees. During the low-snow period, Caribou fed at fewer trees but used those with greater lichen abundance, and fed more intensively at each, compared to the deep-snow period. In comparison to trees occurring on the foraging path but at which Caribou did not feed, those from which arboreal lichen was foraged intensively were of larger diameter, had greater lichen abundance, and were more likely to be Subalpine Fir (Abies lasiocarpa) or Engelmann Spruce (Picea engelmannii) and less likely to be Whitebark Pine (Pinus albicaulis), Lodgepole Pine (P. contorta) or Alpine Larch (Larix lyalli). The shift in diet between the low-snow and deep-snow periods reflected two modes of foraging within the early winter period, distinct from one another and apparently also distinct from the late-winter season. Management for early-winter habitat will require retention of some commercially significant forest across extensive areas, both near the subalpine forest – subalpine parkland ecotone and lower in the subalpine forest.


Woodland Caribou; Rangifer tarandus caribou; habitat; early winter; Grouseberry; Vaccinium scoparium; lichen; Bryoria; Purcell Mountains; British Columbia

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