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Caribou in Canada: Ecology and Policy Open Access


Other title
body condition
landscape disturbance
climate change
Rangifer tarandus
maternal effects
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Vors, Liv S.
Supervisor and department
Boyce, Mark (Biological Sciences)
Examining committee member and department
Paszkowski, Cindy (Biological Sciences)
Johnson, Chris (Ecosystem Sciences, University of Northern British Columbia)
Derocher, Andrew (Biological Sciences)
Lewis, Mark (Biological Sciences)
Department of Biological Sciences
Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Caribou (Rangifer tarandus L.) populations in Canada are threatened by climate change and anthropogenic landscape disturbance, which may negatively affect caribou energetics and range occupancy, with negative consequences for vital rates. Caribou are the basis of economy and spirituality for Northern Peoples and embody numerous non-use values, but industrial incursions into caribou range are largely unchecked. Hence, the goal of this thesis was to examine broad- and fine-scale drivers of caribou population change, as well as explore the efficacy of existing management and conservation of caribou in Canada. I investigated mechanisms by which climate change and industrial disturbance influence caribou population change. Non-migratory caribou were negatively influenced by apparent competition with predators and alternate prey facilitated by industrial landscape change. Migratory caribou body condition and reproductive capacity were negatively influenced by climate-driven changes in plant and insect phenology. Arctic island-dwelling caribou were negatively affected by starvation associated with climate-driven rain-on-snow events. I explored how summer plant productivity and winter snow conditions influenced maternal condition, fetal weight, and antler weight in barren-ground caribou. Maternal body condition and fetal weight in March were positively influenced by previous summer’s plant productivity, whereas winter snow conditions did not adequately explain variation in fetal size or maternal condition. Antler weight in male and female barren-ground caribou was positively influenced by the previous summer’s plant productivity as well as by snow conditions. Finally, I compared Canada’s Species-at-Risk legislation to the ecological needs of threatened boreal caribou. Old growth boreal forest was emphasized as essential for the species’ persistence, but the Federal Recovery Strategy did not identify critical habitat spatially. Moreover, habitat protection was a provincial/territorial, rather than federal, responsibility and there was no legal obligation for the provinces to protect caribou habitat. While there exists little means by which to mitigate the effects of climate change on caribou, anthropogenic disturbance-related population declines can be managed by limiting industrial incursions into caribou range.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
Citation for previous publication
Vors, L.S., & Boyce, M.S. (2009) Global declines of caribou and reindeer. Global Change Biology, 15, 2626–2633.

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