Straight from the caribou’s (Rangifer tarandus) mouth: detailed observations of tame caribou reveal new insights into summer–autumn diets
Canadian Journal of Zoology 95(2):81-94
High-quality habitats for caribou (Rangifer tarandus (L., 1758)) are associated primarily with lichens, but lichens alone fail to satisfy summer nutritional requirements. To evaluate the summer forage value of plant communities across northeastern British Columbia (BC), where populations of northern and boreal ecotypes of caribou are declining, we observed foraging by tame, female caribou. We compared diet composition with forage abundance to determine forage selection and to quantify forage availability. Deciduous shrubs, not lichens, largely dominated summer diets. Caribou were highly selective foragers, with 28 species comprising 78% of diets. Caribou avoided ≥50% of understory vegetation in all communities, especially conifers, evergreen shrubs, mosses, and two genera of terrestrial lichens. Availability of accepted forage (species not avoided) was strongly heterogeneous across landscapes. Alpine shrub areas and mid-elevation spruce–fir stands in the mountains, as well as treed rich fens and white spruce communities in the boreal forests, provided the greatest quantities of accepted forage for caribou. Dry alpine sites and unproductive black spruce communities provided the least accepted forage. Our work has direct implications to caribou conservation by contributing to a greater understanding of the forage value of summer habitats, with implications to habitat selection, seasonal movements, and distribution ecology.
Rangifer tarandus caribou, woodland caribou, diet composition, alpine, boreal forest, food selection, foraging