Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Seasonal climate variation and caribou availability: Modeling sequential movement using satellite-relocation data

January 1, 2013

Livelihood systems that depend on mobile resources must constantly adapt to change. For people living in permanent settlements, environmental changes that affect the distribution of a migratory species may reduce the availability of a primary food source, with the potential to destabilize the regional social-ecological system. Food security for Arctic indigenous peoples harvesting barren ground caribou (Rangifer tarandus granti) depends on movement patterns of migratory herds. Quantitative assessments of physical, ecological, and social effects on caribou distribution have proven difficult because of the significant interannual variability in seasonal caribou movement patterns. We developed and evaluated a modeling approach for simulating the distribution of a migratory herd throughout its annual cycle over a multiyear period. Beginning with spatial and temporal scales developed in previous studies of the Porcupine Caribou Herd of Canada and Alaska, we used satellite collar locations to compute and analyze season-by-season probabilities of movement of animals between habitat zones under two alternative weather conditions for each season. We then built a set of transition matrices from these movement probabilities, and simulated the sequence of movements across the landscape as a Markov process driven by externally imposed seasonal weather states. Statistical tests showed that the predicted distributions of caribou were consistent with observed distributions, and significantly correlated with subsistence harvest levels for three user communities. Our approach could be applied to other caribou herds and could be adapted for simulating the distribution of other ungulates and species with similarly large interannual variability in the use of their range.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2013
Title Seasonal climate variation and caribou availability: Modeling sequential movement using satellite-relocation data
DOI 10.5751/ES-05376-180201
Authors Craig Nicolson, Matthew Berman, Colin Thor West, Gary P. Kofinas, Brad Griffith, Don Russell, Darcy Dugan
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecology and Society
Index ID 70193386
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coop Res Unit Leetown