Effects of Petroleum Development on Terrain Preferences of Calving Caribou
Keywords:calving, caribou, Rangifer tarandus, habitat, terrain, disturbance, oilfield, petroleum developmentcalving, petroleum development
We investigated terrain preferences of caribou (Rangifer tarandus granti) in an oilfield region near Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Under disturbance-free conditions, the distribution of calving caribou determined by aerial transect surveys was correlated with indices of terrain ruggedness based on map contours. Caribou preferred quadrats dominated by fine-textured rugged terrain, particularly when present in large clusters, and avoided quadrats with flatter terrain. Displacement of maternal females from a zone within 4 km of roads and production-related facilities reduced use of rugged terrain types in that zone by 52%; the remaining preferred terrain was scattered and less accessible. This reduction was accompanied by a 43% increase in caribou use of rugged terrain 4-10 km from surface development. Given that terrain ruggedness is positively correlated with forage quality and biomass availability, combined underuse and overuse of these important habitats may compromise summer nutrition of lactating female caribou, thereby depressing body condition and, hence, subsequent reproductive success.