Technical Bulletin No. 0939: State of Knowledge and Analysis of Current Research on Woodland Caribou in Canada
Caribou or Rangifer tarandus is a species of deer that lives in tundra, taiga, and forest habitats at high latitudes in the northern hemisphere, including in Russia and Scandinavia, Alaska, Idaho and Washington states, and Canada. The species’ common name is caribou in North America and reindeer in Europe and Asia. Five populations of woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), a subspecies of caribou, are listed under the Canadian Species at Risk Act, with one endangered, two threatened, one special concern, and one not at risk. Some areas are experiencing range retraction and population declines. Causes of declines and range retractions remain poorly understood, and are hypothesized to involve forest management, industrial disturbance, predator-prey dynamics, encroachment by other ungulates, climate change, or combinations of several factors. Scientific research into the biology and ecology of this species is substantial, but incomplete. While a good understanding of the species’ basic ecology has been documented, many questions remain unanswered. The current status of a quarter of the herds in listed populations in Canada remains unknown. Moreover, information about summer and fall foraging and nutritional requirements (factors that are well known to have significant effects on all ungulates in which they have been examined) is virtually absent from woodland caribou literature. Literature reviews examined here suggest a range of areas in which more effort is needed to fill gaps and better equip recovery efforts. Using a survey of researchers in Canada, this report compares current knowledge gaps with current research projects. While several research areas (e.g., basic ecology, predation) appear to be well addressed by current projects, research on woodland caribou energetics and nutrition is under-represented among ongoing projects.