Quantifying the influence of spatial patterns in snow on migration and winter foraging of caribou in northern Alaska.

Theme 1. Environmental protection
Session Name 1.11 Reindeer & caribou in the Arctic system: Interactions between environmental, social and biophysical processes
Datetime Sep 06, 2018 10:00 AM - 10:15 AM (UTC +3)
Presentation Type Oral
Presenter Stine Højlund Pedersen
Author(s) Stine Højlund Pedersen (Colorado State Univ & Univ of Alaska, USA), Glen Liston (Colorado State University, USA), Matthew Sturm (University of Alaska Fairbanks, USA), Torsten Bensen (Department of Fish & Game-Alaska, USA), Jeffrey Welker (UArctic, Univ of Oulu & Univ of Alaska, Finland)
Abstract text

Caribou foraging and migrations can be affected by winter snowpack physical traits that are the result of a complex combination of storm types and sources, winds, topography, elevation, vegetation, proximity to the Arctic Ocean and proximity to mountainous terrain.  Snow can be greatly redistributed across the tundra and mountains due to strong winds that lead to uneven snow depths, variable physical properties at fine and course scales, and patches that differ in their longevity each spring. Of particular importance to caribou in Alaska and across the North are physical traits such as snow density, snow hardness, and snow depth that may affect caribou’s access to forage and their energy balance as they migrate and seek out forage. In addition, the spatial and temporal variation in snow distribution may affect the migration corridors from the tundra to the wintering habitats in the fall and the reverse in the spring.

In March of 2018 we undertook a 6-week snow machine and aircraft-supported survey of snow properties across the entire home range of the Central Arctic Caribou Herd (CACH) from the coastal plain of N Alaska, across the foothills of the Brooks Range, and into the valleys of the central and southern Brooks Range. These data are being used to model snowpack properties and will be combined with recent caribou location data to understand how within and between year variation in snow properties and distributions may influence CACH migration and feeding ecology.

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