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New bone survey method could aid long-term survival of Arctic caribou
Date:3/27/2013

GAINESVILLE, Fla. A study co-authored by a University of Florida scientist adds critical new data for understanding caribou calving grounds in an area under consideration for oil exploration in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The research may be used to create improved conservation strategies for an ecologically important area that has been under evaluation for natural resource exploration since enactment of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act in 1980.

By studying bone accumulations on the Arctic landscape, lead author Joshua Miller discovered rare habitats near river systems are more important for some caribou than previously believed. The study appearing online today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B shows bone surveys conducted on foot provide highly detailed and extensive data on areas used by caribou as birthing grounds.

"The bone surveys are adding a new piece of the puzzle, giving us a way of studying how caribou use the landscape during calving and providing a longer perspective for evaluating the importance of different regions and habitats," said Miller, an assistant scientist at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus and a Fenneman assistant research professor at the University of Cincinnati.

Unlike other species in the deer family, both male and female caribou grow antlers. Males shed them after they mate, while pregnant females keep their antlers until they calve, losing them within a day or two of giving birth. Newborn caribou calves also suffer high mortality rates within the first couple days of birth. The female antlers and newborn skeletal remains offer a unique biological signal for understanding calving activity, Miller said.

"This new tool has a lot of potential, and the idea that these bones are providing new information is really exciting bone surveys allow us to go into the field today and collect historical information about
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Contact: Joshua Miller
mille5ju@ucmail.uc.edu
513-556-6704
University of Florida
Source:Eurekalert

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