Sea-ice crossings by caribou in the south-central Canadian Arctic Archipelago and their ecological importance
Keywords:caribou, Arctic, crossings of sea ice, Canadian Arctic Islands, inter-island and mainland-island seasonal migrations, Rangifer tarandus
AbstractThe islands of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago lie immediately north of mainland North America in the Arctic Ocean. They are surrounded by ice for most of each year. Caribou (Rangifer tarandus) cross the sea ice in seasonal migrations among the islands and between the mainland and Arctic Islands. We compiled observations of 1272 discrete caribou crossings on the sea ice of northeastern Franklin Strait, Bellot Strait, Peel Sound and Baring Channel in the south-central Canadian Arctic Archipelago during four May—June search periods from 1977 to 1980. We clustered the 850 caribou trails found on the sea ice of northeastern Franklin Strait and on outer Peel Sound as 73 sea-ice crossing sites. We investigated whether caribou at the origin of a sea-ice crossing site could see land on the opposite side at the potential terminus. We measured the straight-line distance from where the caribou first came onto the ice (origin) to the first possible landfall (potential terminus). Potential termini were geodetically visible to caribou from elevated terrain near 96% of the origins of the 73 sea-ice crossing sites and still visible at sea-level at the origins on 68%. Caribou are able to take advantage of seasonal use of all of the islands and the peninsula by making sea-ice crossings, thereby helping to increase the magnitudes and durations of population highs and reduce their lows. Knowledge of these alternative pat¬terns of use made possible by sea-ice crossings is necessary to fully understand the population dynamics of these caribou and the importance of possible future changes in ice cover.
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