• Ecological and physiological aspects of caribou activity and responses to aircraft overflights

      Maier, Julie Ann Kitchens (1996)
      I investigated the use of remote-sensing of caribou (Rangifer tarandus) activity to assess disturbance of low-altitude overflights by jet aircraft. Resource management agencies are concerned about the potential effects of these overflights on important species of ungulates. I hypothesized that low-altitude overflights would affect activity and movements of caribou, and thereby constitute a disturbance with negative consequences on energetics. I used caribou of the Delta Herd (DCH) and captive animals at the Large Animal Research Station (LARS) to address the hypotheses: caribou (1) exhibit equal activity day and night; (2) do not time activity to light; and (3) activity patterns do not change seasonally in response to daylength. Caribou were nychthemeral and exhibited uniform activity with no apparent timing to light. DCH caribou responded to seasonal changes in the environment by modifying activity (increased activity in response to insect harassment), whereas LARS caribou altered activity in response to fluctuating physiological variables (increased activity during rut). Changes in daylength did not affect activity. Data on activity from LARS and DCH caribou were compared with extant data on caribou of the Denali and Porcupine herds. Poor quality forage in winter was inferred from long resting bouts, and low availability of forage was inferred from long active bouts of post-calving caribou of the DCH. In midsummer, caribou of the DCH exhibited significantly longer active and shorter resting bouts than did LARS caribou, consistent with a moderate level of insect harassment. Responses of caribou to overflights were mild in late winter and, thus, overflights did not constitute a disturbance. Post-calving caribou responded to overflights by increasing daily activity, linear movements, incremental energy cost, and average daily metabolic rate. Energetic responses and movements were significantly related to the loudest overflight of the day. In the insect season, activity levels increased significantly in response to overflights but with no corresponding increase in linear movements or energetics. My recommendations are to prohibit aircraft overflights of caribou during calving and post-calving periods and during key feeding times in insect harassment seasons. Research indicates the possibility of more severe effects in nutritionally stressed animals.