Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Demography and decline of the Mentasta caribou herd, Alaska

January 1, 2005

We evaluated population trends in the Mentasta caribou (Rangifer tarandus (L., 1758)) herd in Wrangell – St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska, from 1990 to 1997 and determined factors contributing to its decline. We postulated that predation-related mortality of adult females and juveniles was the proximate cause of the decline, and that survival of juvenile caribou reflected interactions with winter severity, calving distribution, timing of births, density of caribou, and physical condition of neonates at birth. The population declined at its greatest rate from 1990 to 1993 (r = –0.32) and at a lower rate from 1994 to 1997 (r = –0.09). Recruitment (number of calves/100 females during September) averaged 4/100 during the rapid population decline from 1990 to 1993 and 13/100 from 1994 to 1997. Parturition rate of adult females ranged from 65% to 97%. Survival of adult females and juveniles ranged from 0.77 to 0.86 and from 0.00 to 0.22, respectively. Approximately 43%, 59%, and 79% of all juvenile mortality occurred by 1, 2, and 4 weeks of age, respectively. We confirmed predation-related mortality as the primary proximate cause of population decline, with gray wolves (Canis lupus L., 1758), bears (species of the genus Ursus L., 1758), and other predators accounting for 57%, 38%, and 5%, respectively, of all juvenile mortality, and bears causing disproportionate mortality among 0- to 1-week-old neonates. We supported the hypotheses that timing of birth and habitat conditions at the birth site, particularly mottled snow patterns, affected vulnerability and survival of neonates, and birth mass affected survival of juveniles through summer. We speculate that the population will continue to decline before reaching a low-density equilibrium that is sustained by density-dependent changes in the functional responses of predators.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2005
Title Demography and decline of the Mentasta caribou herd, Alaska
DOI 10.1139/z05-111
Authors Kurt J. Jenkins, Neil L. Barten
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Canadian Journal of Zoology
Index ID 1016328
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center