Spatial and Temporal Changes in Seasonal Range Attributes in a Declining Barren-ground Caribou Herd

John Virgl
James Rettie
Daniel Coulton
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From 1996 to 2015 the Bathurst caribou herd has declined from approximately 349,000 to 20,000 animals. Aboriginal traditional knowledge (TK) has recently observed the later arrival of the herd below the treeline, an attribute of the autumn range. Science also predicts that seasonal range attributes (e.g., area, location) likely vary with population size, and perhaps climate. We used Aboriginal TK and science to identify several seasonal range attributes that were ex­amined for changes through time (decreasing population abundance). Attributes of seasonal ranges for female Bathurst caribou were calculated using satellite radio-collar data from January 1996 through October 2013. Climate data from CircumArctic Rangifer Monitoring and Assessment Network were analyzed for trends from 1979 to 2009. Analyses showed a significant decrease in the area of post-calving and autumn ranges, but no changes in winter and spring ranges. Results supported Aboriginal TK that female caribou have shifted the autumn range farther from the treeline and moved into the forest later in the year. Analysis of climate variables found no trends at the spatio-temporal scale of the post-calving to autumn ranges. Working hypotheses to explain these patterns, which are not mutually exclusive, include reduced predation risk, increased use of core areas at lower population density, and greater utilization of areas of taiga where arboreal and ground lichen availability and accessibility are relatively higher than in the forest. This analysis demonstrates how including Aboriginal TK can lead to stronger connections and results, with potential to provide new and different insights for further investigations.