Body size of female calves and natality rates of known-aged females in two adjacent Alaskan caribou herds, and implications for management
AbstractWe studied body mass of female calves and natality rate of adult females in two adjacent Interior Alaskan caribou (Rangifer tarandus granti) herds during 1991-2001. Mass of newborn calves was similar in both herds, but Delta calves gained significantly more mass over summer than Nelchina calves. In contrast, Nelchina calves consistently maintained their mass during winter while Delta calves lost mass. Metatarsus length was similar in both herds in 4-month-old and 10-month-old calves, and it increased over winter in both herds. Natality rates of females >3 years old were consistently higher in the Delta Herd than in the Nelchina Herd, primarily because natality in 3- to 5-year-old Nelchina females was low. Although body mass of Delta Herd calves consistently declined over winter, we concluded that nutrition was not significantly limiting herd growth. Managers are more likely to maximize harvest by maintaining the Delta Herd near its present size (i.e., 3500), or allowing it to increase only slightly. The only real option for increasing harvestable surpluses of caribou in the Delta Herd is reducing predation during calving and summer. In contrast, we conclude that summer nutrition significantly limits potential population growth and body mass in the Nelchina Herd, and managers are more likely to maximize harvest by maintaining herd size at or below 30 000 than by allowing the herd to grow to near historical highs (i.e., 60 000-70 000).
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