Site fidelity of female caribou at multiple spatial scales
- Cite this article as:
- Schaefer, J.A., Bergman, C.M. & Luttich, S.N. Landscape Ecology (2000) 15: 731. doi:10.1023/A:1008160408257
Studies of site fidelity have been hampered by arbitrary designations of spatial scale and the lack of null models for comparison. We generated null expectations of fidelity at different scales from the distribution of radio-tracked animals in a population. We applied the models to space use of satellite-tracked caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), the most vagile nonvolant terrestrial animal, from populations representing sedentary and migratory ecotypes. We compared distances between consecutive-year locations of adult females to expectations based on the total range and seasonal range of each population. At the scale of the total range, sedentary and migratory caribou displayed remarkably similar philopatry, despite a 30-fold difference in size of their population ranges, from time of calving (late May) to breeding (late October). The most intense fidelity occurred during post-calving when, on average, sedentary and migratory females returned to as near as 6.7 km and 123 km, respectively, of locations occupied the previous year. At the scale of the seasonal range, the ecotypes differed. Sedentary caribou still displayed fidelity from calving to breeding; migratory caribou exhibited fidelity only during late autumn. For migratory, but not sedentary caribou, inter-year distances during winter were negatively correlated with age, implying that older females were more philopatric. We conclude that reproductive activities delimit the season of fidelity of female caribou of both ecotypes, and that scale-dependent ecotypic differences in fidelity may reflect different factors of population limitation. A spatially-explicit approach to site fidelity is essential for synthesizing patterns across studies.