Comparative response of Rangifer tarandus and other northern ungulates to climatic variability
AbstractTo understand the factors influencing life history traits and population dynamics, attention is increasingly being given to the importance of environmental stochasticity. In this paper, we review and discuss aspects of current knowledge concerning the effect of climatic variation (local and global) on population parameters of northern ungu¬lates, with special emphasis on reindeer/caribou (Rangifer tarandus). We also restrict ourselves to indirect effects of climate through both forage availability and quality, and insect activity. Various authors have used different weather variables; with sometime opposite trends in resulting life history traits of ungulates, and few studies show consistent effects to the same climatic variables. There is thus little consensus about which weather variables play the most sig¬nificant role influencing ungulate population parameters. This may be because the effects of weather on ungulate pop¬ulation dynamics and life history traits are scale dependent and it is difficult to isolate climatic effects from density dependent factors. This confirms the complexity of the relationship between environment and ecosystem. We point out limits of comparability between systems and the difficulty of generalizing about the effect of climate change broadly across northern systems, across species and even within species. Furthermore, insect harassment appears to be a key climate-related factor for the ecology of reindeer/caribou that has been overlooked in the literature of climatic effects on large herbivores. In light of this, there is a need for further studies of long time series in assessing effects of climate variability on reindeer/caribou.
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