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Where to spend the winter? The role of intraspecific competition and climate in determining the selection of wintering areas by migratory caribou

Citation

Le Corre, Mael; Dussault, Christian; Côté, Steeve D. (2019), Where to spend the winter? The role of intraspecific competition and climate in determining the selection of wintering areas by migratory caribou, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.pnvx0k6hq

Abstract

Depicted as predictable movements, migrations can, however, show important interannual variations, making the conservation of migratory species particularly challenging. Plasticity in migratory behaviour allows individuals to adjust their migratory tactics to maximize their fitness. Destination of migration, and therefore migration patterns, may vary according to climatic and environmental conditions encountered during migration or at the arrival site but also according to competition. In Northern-Québec and Labrador, Canada, fall migration patterns of caribou from the Rivière-George (RGH) and the Rivière-aux-Feuilles (RFH) herds have varied greatly during the last decades. Meanwhile, both herds have shown large fluctuations in abundance. We assessed the influence of environmental factors and changes in population size on wintering area selection. Based on 649 fall migrations of 284 females equipped with ARGOS collars, we used a machine-learning algorithm, the random forests, to assess how climate, resources and population size affected the selection of four different wintering areas. Individuals followed over several years switched to a different wintering area 45% of the time between consecutive years, and this probability increased at high population size. The main determinant of wintering area selection was the population size for both herds, suggesting intra- and inter-herd competition for wintering areas. The long migrations of RGH toward the western wintering areas, also used by RFH, were favoured when the herd was abundant and when the availability of resources was low at the departure. The migrations of RFH toward the south-western area increased as RGH declined, possibly because the past presence of RGH in this area reduced access for caribou from RFH. These results highlight the flexibility in the migratory behaviour of caribou in response to variation in competition. Our study is the first to suggest that wintering area selection can be determined by competition between populations of the same ungulate species.

Usage Notes

Datasets and R scripts required to run the hierachical cluster analysis and the random forests analyses