Calf mortality is a major component of caribou (Rangifer tarandus) population dynamics, but little is known about the timing or causes of calf losses, or of characteristics that predispose calves to mortality. During 1984-87, we radiocollared 226 calves (≤3 days old) in the Denali Caribou Herd (DCH), an unhunted population utilized by a natural complement of predators, to determine the extent, timing, and causes of calf mortality and to evaluate influences of year, sex, birthdate, and birth mass on those losses. Overall, 39% of radio-collared calves died as neonates (≤15 days old), and 98% of those deaths were attributed to predation. Most neonatal deaths (85%) occurred within 8 days of birth. Few deaths occurred after the neonatal period (5, 10, and 0% of calves instrumented died during 16-30, 31-150, and >150 days of age, respectively). Survival of neonates was lower (P = 0.038) in 1985, following a severe winter, than during the other 3 years. In years other than 1985, calves born during the peak of calving (approx 50% of the total, born 5-8 days after calving onset) experienced higher (P < 0.001) neonatal survival than did other calves. Grizzly bears (Ursus arctos), wolves (Canis lupus), and unknown large predators (i.e., grizzly bears or wolves) accounted for 49, 29, and 16% of the neonatal deaths, respectively. The rate of bear-caused mortalities declined (P < 0.001) with calf age, and bears killed few calves >10 days old. Wolf predation was not related (P > 0.05) to calf age and peaked 10 days after onset of calving. Grizzly bear and wolf predation on neonates during the calving season was a limiting factor for the Denali Caribou Herd.
Additional publication details
|Publication Subtype||Journal Article|
|Title||Caribou calf mortality in Denali National Park, Alaska|
|Series title||Journal of Wildlife Management|
|Contributing office(s)||Alaska Biological Science Center|