Irruptive dynamics of introduced caribou on Adak Island, Alaska: an evaluation of Riney-Caughley model predictions

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Large mammalian herbivores introduced to islands without predators are predicted to undergo irruptive population and spatial dynamics, but only a few well-documented case studies support this paradigm. We used the Riney-Caughley model as a framework to test predictions of irruptive population growth and spatial expansion of caribou (Rangifer tarandus granti) introduced to Adak Island in the Aleutian archipelago of Alaska in 1958 and 1959. We utilized a time series of spatially explicit counts conducted on this population intermittently over a 54-year period. Population size increased from 23 released animals to approximately 2900 animals in 2012. Population dynamics were characterized by two distinct periods of irruptive growth separated by a long time period of relative stability, and the catalyst for the initial irruption was more likely related to annual variation in hunting pressure than weather conditions. An unexpected pattern resembling logistic population growth occurred between the peak of the second irruption in 2005 and the next survey conducted seven years later in 2012. Model simulations indicated that an increase in reported harvest alone could not explain the deceleration in population growth, yet high levels of unreported harvest combined with increasing density-dependent feedbacks on fecundity and survival were the most plausible explanation for the observed population trend. No studies of introduced island Rangifer have measured a time series of spatial use to the extent described in this study. Spatial use patterns during the post-calving season strongly supported Riney-Caughley model predictions, whereby high-density core areas expanded outwardly as population size increased. During the calving season, caribou displayed marked site fidelity across the full range of population densities despite availability of other suitable habitats for calving. Finally, dispersal and reproduction on neighboring Kagalaska Island represented a new dispersal front for irruptive dynamics and a new challenge for resource managers. The future demography of caribou on both islands is far from certain, yet sustained and significant hunting pressure should be a vital management tool.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Irruptive dynamics of introduced caribou on Adak Island, Alaska: an evaluation of Riney-Caughley model predictions
Series title Ecosphere
DOI 10.1890/ES13-00338.1
Volume 5
Issue 8
Year Published 2014
Language English
Publisher Ecological Society of America
Publisher location Washington, D.C.
Contributing office(s) Western Ecological Research Center
Description 24 p.
Larger Work Type Article
Larger Work Subtype Journal Article
Larger Work Title Ecosphere
Country United States
State Alaska
Other Geospatial Adak Island;Aleutian Archipelago;Kagalaska Island
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