Insights for caribou/reindeer management using optimal foraging theory

  • Gary E. Belovsky
Keywords: caribou, reindeer, foraging theory, habitat choice, modelling, habitat preference


Optimal foraging theory is useful to wildlife managers, because it helps explain the nutritional value of different habitats for wildlife species. Based upon nutritional value, the use of different habitats can be predicted, including how factors such as insect harassment, predation and migration might modify habitat selection. If habitat value and use can be understood, then changes in habitat availability which are of concern to wildlife managers can be assessed. The theory is used to address diet choice and habitat use of caribou/reindeer. Diet choice is examined in terms of lichen composition of the diet and is demonstrated to be a function of daily feeding time, food abundance and digestive capacity. The diet choice model is then used to assess the nutritional profitability of different habitats and which habitat should be preferred based upon nutritional profitability. Caribou/reindeer use of habitats is demonstrated to be easily modified by insect harassment and predation which change the nutritional profitability of habitats differentially. The same type of approach could be used to explain migratory behaviour; however, the needed parameter values are unavailable. The results of this analysis lead one to question some common conceptions about caribou/reindeer ecology.
How to Cite
Belovsky, G. E. (1991). Insights for caribou/reindeer management using optimal foraging theory. Rangifer, 11(4), 7-23.