Variations in plant forage quality in the range of the Porcupine caribou herd
Keywords:caribou forage, Porcupine herd, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, digestibility, neutral detergent fiber, nitrogen, plant growth forms, range ecology, tundra
AbstractUnderstanding potential impacts of vegetation change on caribou energetics requires information on variations in forage quality among different plant types and over time. We synthesized data on forage quality (nitrogen, neutral detergent fiber and dry matter digestibility) for 10 plant growth forms from existing scientific literature and from field research in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska. These data describe forage quality of plant species in habitats found within the summer and winter range of the Porcupine caribou herd in northwestern Canada and northern Alaska, U.S.A. We compared mean levels of summer forage quality among growth forms and, where possible, estimated seasonal changes in forage quality. Preferred forage groups (deciduous shrubs, forbs, and cottongrass flowers) had higher nitrogen and digestibility, and lower fiber content, than other growth forms. Nitrogen concentration in green biomass peaked at the onset of the growing season in forbs and deciduous shrubs, whereas graminoids reached peak nitrogen concentrations approximately 15-30 days after growth initiation. In vitro dry matter digestibility (IVDMD) and concentration of neutral detergent fiber (NDF) of green biomass differed among growth forms, but did not show strong seasonal changes. IVDMD and NDF concentrations were correlated with nitrogen concentrations in studies that had paired sampling.
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