Modeling influences on winter distribution of caribou in northwestern Alaska through use of satellite telemetry
Keywords:Alaska, caribou distribution, habitat, lichens, predation, Rangifer tarandus granti, resource selection function, satellite telemetry, terrain, Western Arctic Herd, winter range
AbstractI hypothesize that the distribution of barren-ground caribou (Rangifer tarandus granti) is affected by multiple, interrelated factors. These factors include, but are not limited to, terrain and snow characteristics as well as predation pressure and habitat. To test this hypothesis, I attributed caribou locations derived from satellite telemetry over a 6 year period with terrain (elevation, slope, aspect, and ruggedness), habitat characteristics, and moose density - potentially an index of wolf predation pressure. These locations were compared to random locations, attributed using the same data layers, using logistic regression techniques to develop resource selection functions (RSFs). I found that caribou moved significantly less during mid-winter than early- or late-winter and that cows moved significantly more in April than bulls due to their earlier departure on their spring migration. Distribution was different between cows and bulls. Terrain variables were important factors but were scale-dependent. Cows avoided forested areas, highlighting the importance of tundra habitats, and selected for dwarf shrub, with relatively high lichen cover, and sedge habitat types. Bulls selected for dryas, coniferous forest and dwarf shrub habitats but against lowland sedge, upland shrub and burned tundra. Cow distribution was negatively correlated with moose density at the scale of the Seward Peninsula. My results support the hypothesis that caribou distribution during winter in northwest Alaska is affected by multiple, interrelated factors. These results may be useful for researchers to track and/or model changes in future patterns of range use over winter.
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