Canadian Forest Service Publications

Estimating changes in lichen mat volume through time and related effects on barren ground caribou (Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus) movement. 2017. Rickbeil, G.; Hermosilla, T.; Coops, N.C.; White, J.C; Wulder, M.A. PLoS ONE 12(3): e0172669.

Year: 2017

Available from: Pacific Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 38876

Language: English

CFS Availability: PDF (download)

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0172669

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Abstract

Lichens form a critical portion of barren ground caribou (Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus) diets, especially during winter months. Here, we assess lichen mat volume across five herd ranges in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, Canada, using newly developed composite Landsat imagery. The lichen volume estimator (LVE) was adapted for use across 700 000 km2 of barren ground caribou habitat annually from 1984±2012. We subsequently assessed how LVE changed temporally throughout the time series for each pixel using Theil-Sen's slopes, and spatially by assessing whether slope values were centered in local clusters of similar values. Additionally, we assessed how LVE estimates resulted in changes in barren ground caribou movement rates using an extensive telemetry data set from 2006± 2011. The Ahiak/Beverly herd had the largest overall increase in LVE (median = 0.033), while the more western herds had the least (median slopes below zero in all cases). LVE slope pixels were arranged in significant clusters across the study area, with the Cape Bathurst, Bathurst, and Bluenose East herds having the most significant clusters of negative slopes (more than 20% of vegetated land in each case). The Ahiak/Beverly and Bluenose West had the most significant positive clusters (16.3% and 18.5% of vegetated land respectively). Barren ground caribou displayed complex reactions to changing lichen conditions depending on season; the majority of detected associations with movement data agreed with current understanding of barren ground caribou foraging behavior (the exception was an increase in movement velocity at high lichen volume estimates in Fall). The temporal assessment of LVE identified areas where shifts in ecological conditions may have resulted in changing lichen mat conditions, while assessing the slope estimates for clustering identified zones beyond the pixel scale where forage conditions may be changing. Lichen volume estimates associated with barren ground caribou movement metrics in an expected manner and, as such, show value for future habitat assessments.

Plain Language Summary

Lichens form a critical portion of barren ground caribou (Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus) diets, especially during lean winter months. Here, we assess lichen mat volume across five herd ranges in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, Canada, using newly developed composite Landsat imagery. The lichen volume estimator (LVE), developed by Falldorf et al. (2014), was adapted for use across 700 000 km2 of caribou habitat annually from 1984–2012 using Landsat satellite composites generated by the CFS. We subsequently assessed how lichen mat volume changed temporally throughout the Landsat time series for each pixel using Theil-Sen’s slopes, and spatially by assessing whether slope values were centered in local clusters of similarly positive or negative values. We assess how changes in lichen mat volume result in changes in caribou behavior using an extensive telemetry data set with over 300 000 locations across five herds from 2006–2011.

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