Arctic Climate Change’s Effect on Caribou Migration

by Kelsey D’Ewart

The freezing and thawing patterns in the Arctic have been increasingly affected as a result of global temperatures increasing, resulting in earlier later freezing and earlier thawing. This is forcing phenology changes in many Arctic species. Particularly, there has been a change in migration patterns in many species due to the lack of frozen bodies of water. This can lead to longer, more strenuous, and more dangerous migrations that can result in higher mortality rates. Leblond et al. (2016) tracked the ice thawing and freezing times for bodies of water in the migration path of caribou Rangifer tarandus Northern Quebec from 2007−2014, allowing them to determine if the change in ice melt was affecting the caribou’s phenology. Their hypothesis was that the caribou would travel extra distance in order to avoid swimming or water that was not completely frozen. They assessed four different parts of the migration: previous data for freezing trends, the caribou’s response to the change in freezing trends, fine-scale caribou behavior and phenology, and possible future movement using climate change projections. Continue reading