What do Caribou Eat? A Review of the Literature on Caribou Diet

Quinn Webber
Kristy Ferraro
Jack Hendrix
Eric Vander Wal
Resource Date:

Historically the study of diet caribou and reindeer (Rangifer tarandus (Gmelin, 1788)) has been specific to herds and few comprehensive circumpolar analyses of Rangifer diet exist. As a result, the importance of certain diet items may play an outsized role in the caribou diet zeitgeist, e.g., lichen. It is incumbent to challenge this notion and test the relevant importance of various diet items within the context of prevailing hypotheses. We provide a systematic overview of 30 caribou studies reporting caribou diet and test biologically relevant hypotheses about spatial and temporal dietary variation. Our results indicate that in the winter caribou primarily consume lichen, but in warmer seasons, and primary productivity is lower, caribou primarily consume graminoids and other vascular plants. In more productive environments, where caribou have more competitors and predators, consumption of lichen increased. Overall, our description of caribou diet reveals that caribou diet is highly variable, but in circumstances where they can consume vascular plants, they will. As climate change affects Boreal and Arctic ecosystems, the type and volume of food consumed by caribou has become an increasingly important focus for conservation and management of caribou.

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