Winter habitat selection by caribou in relation to lichen abundance, wildfires, grazing, and landscape characteristics in northwest Alaska
Document Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Kyle Joly; F. Stuart Chapin III; David R. Klein
Publication Year: 2010

Cataloging Information

  • Alces alces
  • Arctic
  • caribou
  • caribou
  • fire frequency
  • fire management
  • forage
  • grazing
  • grazing
  • landscape ecology
  • lichens
  • lichens
  • moose
  • mosses
  • pH
  • plant communities
  • population density
  • range expansion
  • range management
  • Rangifer tarandus
  • remote sensing
  • shrubs
  • vegetation surveys
  • Western Arctic Herd
  • wildfires
  • wildlife habitat management
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: February 25, 2019
FRAMES Record Number: 49002
Tall Timbers Record Number: 25272
TTRS Location Status: In-file
TTRS Call Number: Fire File
TTRS Abstract Status: Fair use, Okay, Reproduced by permission

This bibliographic record was either created or modified by the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy and is provided without charge to promote research and education in Fire Ecology. The E.V. Komarek Fire Ecology Database is the intellectual property of the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.


Lichens are an important winter forage for large, migratory herds of caribou (Rangifer tarandus granti) that can influence population dynamics through effects on body condition and in turn calf recruitment and survival. We investigated the vegetative and physiographic characteristics of winter range of the Western Arctic Herd in northwest Alaska, one of the largest caribou herds in North America. We made 3 broad comparisons: habitats used by caribou versus random locations, burned versus unburned habitats, and habitats within the current winter range versus those in the historic winter range and potential winter ranges. We found that lichen abundance was more than 3 times greater at locations used by caribou than found at random. The current winter range does not appear to be overgrazed as a whole, but continued high grazing pressure and consequences of climate change on plant community structure might degrade its condition. Within the current winter range, lichen abundance was more than 4 times greater at unburned locations than at recently (< 58 y) burned locations. Other than lichen abundance, there were few vegetative differences between burned (mean = 37 ± 1.7 y) and unburned locations. The historic winter range has low lichen abundance, likely due to sustained grazing pressure exerted by the herd, which suggests that range deterioration can lead to range shifts. Recovery of this range may be slowed by continued grazing and trampling during migration of caribou to and from their current winter range, as well as by high wildfire frequency and other consequences of climate change. The area identified as potential winter range is unlikely to be utilized regularly by large numbers of caribou primarily due to low lichen abundance associated with extensive deciduous stands, large areas of riparian habitat, high moose (Alces alces) densities, and greater prevalence of wildfire. Our results suggest that lichens are important in the overwintering ecology of caribou that face the energetic costs of predator avoidance and migration. © Ecoscience.

Joly, K., F. S. Chapin, and D. R. Klein. 2010. Winter habitat selection by caribou in relation to lichen abundance, wildfires, grazing, and landscape characteristics in northwest Alaska. Ecoscience, v. 17, no. 3, p. 321-333. 10.2980/17-3-3337.