Ecological role of hunting in population dynamics and its implications for co-management of the Porcupine caribou herd
Keywords:Alaska, caribou, monitoring system, Northwest Territories, population model, Rangifer tarandus, Yukon
AbstractAt a present population size of 160 000 animals, the Porcupine caribou herd has been subjected to an annual harvest rate of 2% for the past couple of decades. We modeled potential sensitivity of herd population dynamics to hunting and used that relation as a basis for a herd monitoring system. Maximum number of adult cows that could be harvested without causing a subsequent decline in herd size was calculated as a function of total number of adult cows in the herd and recruitment of calves to yearling age-class. Maximum cow harvest, therefore, is a threshold above which hunting has destabilizing effects on herd dynamics. Actual harvest in relation to theoretical maximum harvest provides a basis for prediction of herd sensitivity to hunting. Maximum harvest is a linear function of recruitment. Herd dynamics are especially sensitive to low recruitment, however, when combined with low herd size. The two relations involving recruitment and herd size provide the basis for predicting herd dynamics and sensitivity to hunting. Herd size is best estimated by aerial census, while an index of recruitment can be predicted by monitoring autumn body condition of adult females. Body condition can be estimated on the basis of a few simple metrics measured by hunters in the field. The hunters' data on body composition, combined with aerial census data on herd size, provide a useful tool for managers and co-management boards to devise policies and regulations to manage the herd. The population model and monitoring system can operate on the Internet and be accessible to all users in villages within the range of the Porcupine caribou herd.
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