Where the wild things are: Seasonal variation in caribou distribution in relation to climate change

  • Philippa McNeil
  • Don E. Russell
  • Brad Griffith
  • Anne Gunn
  • Gary P. Kofinas
Keywords: caribou distribution, climate change, development, hunting, Rangifer tarandus granti, R. t. groenlandicus, utilization density


In this study, we develop a method to analyse the relationships between seasonal caribou distribution and climate, to estimate how climatic conditions affect interactions between humans and caribou, and ultimately to predict patterns of distribution relative to climate change. Satellite locations for the Porcupine (Rangifer tarandus granti) and Bathurst (R. t. groenlandicus) caribou herds were analysed for eight ecologically-defined seasons. For each season, two levels of a key environmental factor influencing caribou distribution were identified, as well as the best climate data available to indicate the factor's annual state. Satellite locations were grouped according to the relevant combination of season and environmental factor. Caribou distributions were compared for opposing environmental factors; this comparison was undertaken relative to hunting access for the Porcupine Herd and relative to exposure to mining activity for the Bathurst Herd. Expected climate trends suggest an overall increase in access to Porcupine caribou for Aklavik (NWT) hunters during the winter and rut seasons, for Venetie (Alaska) hunters during midsummer and fall migration and for Arctic Village (Alaska) during midsummer. Arctic Village may experience reduced availability with early snowfalls in the fall, but we expect there to be little directional shift in the spring migration patterns. For the Bathurst Herd, we expect that fewer caribou would be exposed to the mines during the winter, while more caribou would be exposed to the combined Ekati and Diavik mining zone in the early summer and to the Lupin-Jericho mining zone during the fall migration. If changes in climate cause an increased presence of caribou in the mining sites, monitoring and mitigation measures may need to be intensified.
How to Cite
McNeil, P., Russell, D. E., Griffith, B., Gunn, A., & Kofinas, G. P. (2005). Where the wild things are: Seasonal variation in caribou distribution in relation to climate change. Rangifer, 25(4), 51-63. https://doi.org/10.7557/