The central arctic caribou herd

Biological Science Report 2002-0001-4
By: , and 
Edited by: David C. DouglasPatricia E. Reynolds, and E. B. Rhode



From the mid-1970s through the mid-1980s, use of calving and summer habitats by Central Arctic herd caribou (Rangifer tarandus granti) declined near petroleum development infrastructure on Alaska's arctic coastal plain (Cameron et al. 1979; Cameron and Whitten 1980, Smith and Cameron 1983. Whitten and Cameron 1983a, 1985: Dau and Cameron 1986).

With surface development continuing to expand westward from the Prudhoe Bay petroleum development area (Fig. 4.1), concerns arose that the resultant cumulative losses of habitat would eventually reduce productivity of the caribou herd. Specifically, reduced access of adult females to preferred foraging areas might adversely affect growth and fattening (Elison et al. 1986. Clough et al. 1987), in turn depressing calf production (Dauphiné 1976, Thomas 1982, Reimers 1983, White 1983, Eloranta and Nieminen 1986. Lenvik et al. 1988, Thomas and Kiliaan 1991) and survival (Haukioja and Salovaara 1978, Rognmo et al. 1983, Skogland 1984, Eloranta and Nieminen 1986, Adamczewski et al. 1987).

Those concerns, though justified in theory, lacked empirical support. With industrial development in arctic Alaska virtually unprecedented, there was little basis for predicting the extent and duration of habitat loss, much less the secondary short- and long-term effects on the well-being of a particular caribou herd.

Furthermore, despite a general acceptance that body condition and fecundity of the females are functionally related for reindeer and caribou, it seemed unlikely that any single model would apply to all subspecies of Rangifer, and perhaps not even within a subspecies in different geographic regions. We therefore lacked a complete understanding of the behavioral responses of arctic caribou to industrial development, the manner in which access to habitats might be affected, and how changes in habitat use might translate into measurable effects on fecundity and herd growth rate.

Our study addressed the following objectives: 1) estimate variation in the size and productivity of the Central Arctic herd; 2) estimate changes in the distribution and movements of Central Arctic herd caribou in relation to the oil field development; 3) estimate the relationships between body condition and reproductive performance of female Central Arctic herd caribou, and 4) compare the body condition, reproductive success, and offspring survival of females under disturbance-free conditions (i.e., east of the Sagavanirktok River) with the status of those exposed to petroleum-related development (i.e., west of the Sagavanirktok River).

Study Area

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype Federal Government Series
Title The central arctic caribou herd
Series title Biological Science Report
Series number 2002-0001
Chapter 4
Year Published 2002
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Alaska Science Center
Description 8 p.
Larger Work Type Report
Larger Work Subtype Federal Government Series
Larger Work Title Arctic Refuge coastal plain terrestrial wildlife research summaries (Biological Science Report USGS/BRD/BSR-2002-0001)
First page 38
Last page 45
Country Canada, United States
State Alaska, Northwest Territories, Yukon Territory
Other Geospatial Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
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