Predation risk and habitat selection in the persistence of a remnant caribou population
- Cite this article as:
- Ferguson, S.H., Bergerud, A.T. & Ferguson, R. Oecologia (1988) 76: 236. doi:10.1007/BF00379957
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A small caribou herd of 24–77 animals resided on Pic Island (1138 ha) in Lake Superior from 1976 to 1984. Most of the caribou populations on the adjacent mainland had gone extinct earlier in this century. We tested three hypotheses for the persistence of this remanant population: (1) there was more forage available on the island than the mainland, (2) the animals on the island were isolated from white-tailed deer and did not develop the meningeal worm infection, and (3) there was less predation by wolves on the island. Forage was more abundant on the mainland than on Pic Island. The eggs of meningeal worms were not found in the feces of deer on the mainland or Pic island. Wolves seldom visited the island and when they did there was escape habitat available for the caribou. We concluded that the herd persisted because of this reduced predation risk and that the animals were prepared to select a reduced variety and phytomass of forage to remain for long periods in the relatively safe island habitat. When the animals did visit the mainland to feed they sclected forbs that provided a large bite size. On the island food supplies were too meager to select plants that gave a large bite size and the caribou spent long intervals feeding. Caribou by using habitats with a large phytomass and selecting for large bite size should minimize their time feeding which would allow them more time to watch for predators.