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24 December 2015 Decades of habitat use reveal food limitation of Newfoundland caribou
James A. Schaefer, Shane P. Mahoney, Jackie N. Weir, J. Glenn Luther, Colleen E. Soulliere
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Identifying limiting factors is fundamental to understanding and conserving mammals, yet it often requires longterm data for long-lived species. Numerical changes of migratory caribou (Rangifer tarandus), for example, may unfold over decades, but few studies have examined habitat use at similar timeframes. We analyzed multiple decades of habitat use by caribou in Newfoundland, Canada, coincident with their numeric growth (r = 0.064 in 1980s, 1990s) and decline (r = -0.099 in 2000s). We examined 2 scales: selection of land cover, based on radiotracking of 520 adult females, and diet, based on microhistological analysis of feces and age-specific tooth wear from jawbones of harvested animals. Caribou responded at both scales. In contrast to previous decades, females during the population decline used proportionally less open coniferous and closed coniferous forests, they used more shrublands (in fall and winter) and barrens, open habitats with greater vascular plant resources. Patterns of selection also changed from nonselection to avoidance of open coniferous forest and from avoidance to nonselection or preference of barrens. The proportion of dietary moss increased at the expense of deciduous shrubs, especially during spring and summer and of ericaceous shrubs, graminoids, and lichens during winter. Teeth of both sexes exhibited premature wear, likely indicative of abrasion from low-quality forages and cropping of foods near the ground. These patterns mirror other responses, including declines in calf weight, female body size, number of male antler points, herd affinities, and time spent on the summer grounds. We surmise that they reflect density-dependent forage limitation of this island population.

© 2015 American Society of Mammalogists,
James A. Schaefer, Shane P. Mahoney, Jackie N. Weir, J. Glenn Luther, and Colleen E. Soulliere "Decades of habitat use reveal food limitation of Newfoundland caribou," Journal of Mammalogy 97(2), 386-393, (24 December 2015).
Received: 4 October 2015; Accepted: 2 November 2015; Published: 24 December 2015

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