, Volume 107, Issue 3, pp 364-372

Relationships between graminoid growth form and levels of grazing by caribou (Rangifer tarandus) in Alaska

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Abstract

Herbivores and their forage interact in many ways, in some instances to the benefit or detriment of herbivore and vegetation. Studies of wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus) in Africa and snow geese (Chen caerulescens) in the Arctic have suggested that these grazers enhance graminoid production in certain sites by repeatedly using them. Other studies have concluded that herbivores are sensitive to local variation in forage quality and quantity, and preferentially use those sites that are intrinsically more productive. In this study, caribou (Rangifer tarandus) were observed foraging at different densities on two adjacent Alaskan ranges, within which particular feeding sites contained predictably high, medium, or low densities of caribou. Vegetation from one high- and one low-use site on each of the high- and low-density ranges was sampled and monitored for productivity, measured as re-growth following clipping, with the objectives of determining which forage characteristics influence usage by grazers and whether the productivity and nature of graminoid growth after clipping were related to grazing history. Forage biomass density (g/m3), shoot density (number/m2), stand densities of nutrients and minerals (g/m3), and forage concentrations of nutrients and minerals (g/100 g tissue) correlated positively with use of sites by caribou. Productivity was independent of previous use by grazers, but consistent within ranges. These results indicate that caribou are sensitive to local variation in forage quality and quantity, preferentially use those sites with higher returns of nutrients and minerals, and have the potential to enhance graminoid growth on sites that are inherently more productive.