Ecology and Evolution
The ideal free distribution assumes that animals select habitats that are beneficial to their fitness. When the needs of dependent offspring differ from those of the parent, ideal habitat selection patterns could vary with the presence or absence of offspring. We test whether habitat selection depends on reproductive state due to top‐down or bottom‐up influences on the fitness of woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), a threatened, wide‐ranging herbivore. We combined established methods of fitting resource and step selection functions derived from locations of collared animals in Ontario with newer techniques, including identifying calf status from video collar footage and seasonal habitat selection analysis through latent selection difference functions. We found that females with calves avoided predation risk and proximity to roads more strongly than females without calves within their seasonal ranges. At the local scale, females with calves avoided predation more strongly than females without calves. Females with calves increased predation avoidance but not selection for food availability upon calving, whereas females without calves increased selection for food availability across the same season. These behavioral responses suggest that habitat selection by woodland caribou is influenced by reproductive state, such that females with calves at heel use habitat selection to offset the increased vulnerability of their offspring to predation risk.
Viejou, R., T. Avgar, G.S. Brown, B. Patterson, D. Reid, et al. (2018) Woodland Caribou Habitat Selection Patterns in Relation to Predation Risk and Forage Abundance Depend on Reproductive State. Ecology and Evolution, 8: 5863-5872.