Caribou in Canada: Ecology and Policy

  • Author / Creator
    Vors, Liv S.
  • 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.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2013
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
  • Specialization
    • Ecology
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Paszkowski, Cindy (Biological Sciences)
    • Johnson, Chris (Ecosystem Sciences, University of Northern British Columbia)
    • Derocher, Andrew (Biological Sciences)
    • Lewis, Mark (Biological Sciences)