Species that make long-distance migrations face changes in the phenology of natural processes linked to global climate changes. Mismatch between the onset of resources and arrival on breeding grounds or changes in the conditions faced during migration such as early snowmelt in northern environments could have severe impacts on migrant populations. We investigated the impact of local weather and broad-scale climate and of the availability of forage resources on timing of spring and fall migrations of migratory caribou (Rangifer tarandus) from the Rivière-George and Rivière-aux-Feuilles herds in northern Québec and Labrador, Canada. We tested the effect of local weather using data provided by the Canadian Regional Climate Model, a large-scale climate index, snow and ice cover, and the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index on departure and arrival dates of 377 spring migrations and 499 fall migrations of female caribou. Since 2000, except for the spring arrival, migrations tended to occur earlier. Spring arrival was delayed when caribou encountered mild temperatures and abundant precipitation during migration, as early snowmelt may increase cost of movements. At greater population sizes, caribou seemed to limit the time spent on summer range by arriving later and departing earlier, possibly to limit competition for summer forage. During fall, caribou adjusted their migration to conditions en route because they arrived earlier if November was snowy and mild, possibly to limit the costs of moving through deep snow. Like numerous migrant species, most caribou herds are declining, and it is crucial to assess which environmental factors affect migrant populations. Our study contributes to the understanding of the impact of local weather conditions and climate change on migratory land mammals.
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Vol. 98 • No. 1