Snow depth and hardness were the most influential factors in selection of feeding areas by caribou (Rangifer tarandus) in late winter in northwestern Alaska. Following a 1988 fire, plots were established in late March through April in burned and unbumed tussock tundra in 1990 and 1991. Snow in both burned and unbumed plots was shallower and softer at edges of caribou feeding craters than at adjacent undisturbed points in both years. There was little difference in snow depth or hardness between burned and unbumed plots, although caribou cratered in shallower snow in burned plots than in unbumed plots in 1990. Crater area was greater in unbumed plots in 1990, but there was no difference in crater area between burned and unbumed plots in 1991. Frequencies of particular plant taxa were only significant in determining selection of crater sites in unbumed plots in 1990, when caribou craters had higher relative frequencies of lichens and lower frequencies of bryophytes than unused areas. Fire reduced relative frequency and biomass of most plant taxa, with the exception of post-disturbance species, which occurred primarily in burned plots. Lichens were reduced in burned plots, and lichens composed 59-74% of the late-winter diet of caribou, as determined by microhistological analysis of fecal pellets. Biomass and relative frequency of Eriophorum vaginatum was greater in burned plots than in unbumed plots in 1991, and protein and in vitro digestibility levels were enhanced in samples of this species collected from burned plots in late winter.
Thesis (M.S.) University of Alaska Fairbanks, 1993
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