Miller recorded evidence of shed caribou antlers and newborn skeletons from the Porcupine Caribou Herd in area 1002 on the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge, which comprises about 1.5 million acres on Alaska's northeast border. Because these high-latitude habitats are frozen nearly three-quarters of the year, bones may be preserved on the landscape for hundreds or thousands of years, researchers said.
Testing two different habitats, the tussock tundra and riparian terraces, researchers found the latter has higher concentrations of shed female antlers and numerous newborn skeletons. The data suggests these terrace habitats are used more during some portions of the calving period than other areas traditionally viewed as primary calving terrain, which is important because they comprise less than 10 percent of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge calving grounds, Miller said.
"Bone surveys are suggesting that these riparian zones should be under special consideration as we think about how to manage the Arctic Refuge and ensure this herd prospers in the decades and centuries to come," Miller said.
The Porcupine Caribou Herd includes as many as 170,000 animals that are essential parts of the delicate Arctic ecosystem. These large, herbivorous, hoofed mammals are an important food source for many indigenous northern peoples and natural predators, including wolves, bears and eagles.
Anna Behrensmeyer, vertebrate paleontology curator at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, said that using skeletal remains as a research tool is important because it helps scientists understand which habitats need protection with minimal disruption to caribou calving. It also allows researchers to collect historical information that may be used to better understand how climate change and other human influences
|Contact: Joshua Miller|
University of Florida