Experimental warming alters migratory caribou forage quality

Authors: Zamin, Tara J.; Côté, Steeve D.Tremblay, Jean-Pierre; Grogan, Paul
Abstract: Global declines in caribou and reindeer (Rangifer) populations have drawn attention to the myriad of stressors that these Arctic and boreal forest herbivores currently face. Arctic warming has resulted in increased tundra shrub growth and therefore Rangifer forage quantity. However, its effects on forage quality have not yet been addressed although they may be critical to Rangifer body condition and fecundity. We investigated the impact of 8 yrs of summer warming on the quality of forage available to the Bathurst caribou herd using experimental greenhouses (n = 5) located in mesic birch hummock tundra in the central Canadian Low Arctic. Leaf forage quality and digestibility characteristics associated with nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus), phenolics, and fiber were measured on the deciduous shrub Betula glandulosa (an important Rangifer diet component) at six time points through the growing season, and on five other very common vascular plant and lichen species in late summer. Experimental warming reduced B. glandulosa leaf nitrogen concentrations by ~10% in both late June and mid-July, but not afterwards. It also reduced late summer forage quality of the graminoid Eriophorum vaginatum by increasing phenolic concentrations 38%. Warming had mixed effects on forage quality of the lichen Cetraria cucullata in that it increased nutrient concentrations and tended to decrease fiber contents, but it also increased phenolics. Altogether, these warming-induced changes in forage quality over the growing season, and response differences among species, highlight the importance of Rangifer adaptability in diet selection. Furthermore, the early season reduction in B. glandulosa nitrogen content is a particular concern given the importance of this time for calf growth. Overall, our demonstration of the potential for significant warming impacts on forage quality at critical times for these animals underscores the importance of effective Rangifer range conservation to ensure sufficient appropriate habitat to support adaptability in forage selection in a rapidly changing environment.
Document Type: Article de recherche
Issue Date: 29 August 2017
Open Access Date: 14 February 2018
Document version: VoR
Permalink: http://hdl.handle.net/20.500.11794/17064
This document was published in: Ecological Applications, Vol. 27 (7), 2061–2073 (2017)
Ecological Society of America
Alternative version: 10.1002/eap.1590
Collection:Articles publiés dans des revues avec comité de lecture

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