Terrestrial Mammal Ecology Research

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Understanding the population dynamics, predator/prey relationships and habitat ecology of large, terrestrial mammals is critical for the management of these wildlife species in Alaska and elsewhere around the world.

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Research conducted by the USGS Alaska Science Center provides relevant scientific information for wildlife management issues, such as the influences of climate change, management of sport and subsistence harvests, management of large carnivores, and effects of disease and human developments. Further, the Large Mammal Ecology Program plays a key role in monitoring and understanding the status and trends of select wildlife populations on DOI lands in Alaska.


Population dynamics of the Denali Caribou Herd

Denali National Park has been the site of continuous research on the population dynamics of the Denali Caribou Herd since 1984.  The 18,800 km2 park provides a unique opportunity to investigate caribou population dynamics where ungulate populations (caribou, moose, and Dall’s sheep) and the large carnivores that prey on them (wolves, grizzly bears, and American black bears) are largely unaffected by human harvest.  Management of large carnivores and ungulates in Alaska, as well as throughout North America, engenders contentious debate about the influences of predation on the dynamics of ungulate populations.  Research on Denali’s large carnivore-ungulate system serves as an important naturally-functioning benchmark for comparison to manipulated systems.  Also, caribou research by the USGS Alaska Science Center is a component of Denali National Park’s large mammal monitoring program, providing objective information on the status and long-term trends of park wildlife populations and understanding of the causes of population changes.  Current efforts focus on the long-term monitoring of population trends and vital rates of the Denali Caribou Herd, as well as investigating patterns of growth and mortality of bull caribou. This information is necessary to make informed management decisions and provide accurate information to the public. The overall goal of this research effort is to continue to document population trends and the vital rates (calf production, calf recruitment, adult female survival) and population characteristics (female age structure, adult sex ratios) that determine the status of the Denali Caribou Herd, and to complete efforts to evaluate growth, survival and seasonal distribution of adult males.

Three caribou from the Porcupine Herd standing on the tundra

Three caribou standing in the tundra.  These caribou are part of the Porcupine caribou herd.
(Credit: Andrew Ramey, USGS. Public domain.)


Evaluating the potential influences of climate warming and industrial disturbance on Alaska’s Central Arctic Caribou Herd

Arctic Alaska has experienced a warming trend over the past 30 years, raising questions about the response of northern latitude caribou and their tundra habitats.  The goal of this research is to quantify the effects of climate warming and industrial disturbance on habitat quality and caribou distribution for the Central Arctic Caribou Herd  in northern Alaska