Central Arctic Caribou and Petroleum Development: Distributional, Nutritional, and Reproductive Implications
Keywords:behavior, body condition, calving, cumulative effects, demography, fecundity, habitat, Rangifer
AbstractWe synthesize findings from cooperative research on effects of petroleum development on caribou (Rangifer tarandus granti) of the Central Arctic Herd (CAH). The CAH increased from about 6000 animals in 1978 to 23000 in 1992, declined to 18 000 by 1995, and again increased to 27 000 by 2000. Net calf production was consistent with changes in herd size. In the Kuparuk Development Area (KDA), west of Prudhoe Bay, abundance of calving caribou was less than expected within 4 km of roads and declined exponentially with road density. With increasing infrastructure, high-density calving shifted from the KDA to inland areas with lower forage biomass. During July and early August, caribou were relatively unsuccessful in crossing road/pipeline corridors in the KDA, particularly when in large, insect-harassed aggregations; and both abundance and movements of females were lower in the oil field complex at Prudhoe Bay than in other areas along the Arctic coast. Female caribou exposed to petroleum development west of the Sagavanirktok River may have consumed less forage during the calving period and experienced lower energy balance during the midsummer insect season than those under disturbance-free conditions east of the river. The probable consequences were poorer body condition at breeding and lower parturition rates for western females than for eastern females (e.g., 1988–94: 64% vs. 83% parturient, respectively; p = 0.003), which depressed the productivity of the herd. Assessments of cumulative effects of petroleum development on caribou must incorporate the complex interactions with a variable natural environment.