Modeling energy and reproductive costs in caribou exposed to low flying military jet aircraft
Keywords:caribou, aircraft, energetics, noise, model, reproduction
AbstractWe used simulation modeling to estimate the effect of low-flying military jet aircraft on the productivity of caribou. The base model (CARIBOU, CWS Whitehorse, Yukon Territory) uses daily intake and expenditure of energy to assess the condition of female caribou throughout the annual cycle. The activity budget of the model caribou was adjusted based on field observations of responses to noise disturbance. A subroutine was added that predicted the likelihood of conception based on fall body fat weight. Caribou responses to overflights were evaluated by equipping free-ranging caribou with radio collars and activity sensors that could distinguish between resting and active periods. Collared animals were exposed to 110 overflights by A-10, F-15 and F- 16 jet aircraft during late-winter, post-calving and the insect season. Noise exposure levels for individual animals either were measured directly with collar-mounted dosimeters or were estimated based on the proximity of the caribou to the aircraft during the overflight. A Time-averaged Sound Level (LT) was calculated from the total daily noise exposure for each animal and linear regression was used to evaluate the influence of daily noise exposure on daily hours spent resting. Results of these analyses then were used to modify the time budgets in the CARIBOU model. That is, if time spent resting declined, then time spent in the two rest classes (lying and standing) were proportionately redistributed into the three active classes (foraging, walking and running). Model simulations indicated that caribou increased forage intake in response to increased noise exposure, but it also predicted that increased noise exposure would cause a reduced accumulation of body fat. Because body fat in fall has successfully been used to predict the probability of pregnancy (see Gerhart et al, 1993), this relationship was used in the model. Preliminary model simulations indicate that increased noise exposure decreases the probability of pregnancy and that unfavorable environmental conditions (e.g., deep snow and severe insect harassment) exacerbate the situation. The threshold at which point the caribou fail to conceive has not been determined at this time, but appears to be well beyond the exposure to aircraft that caribou in the Delta herd are currently experiencing.
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