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Conservation of erupting ungulate populations on islands – a comment

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Author(s): Anne Gunn | Frank L. Miller | Samuel J. Barry

Journal: Rangifer
ISSN 1890-6729

Volume: 23;
Issue: 2;
Start page: 57;
Date: 2010;
Original page

Keywords: crashes vs. declines | caribou | herbivore populations | management vs. myths | Rangifer tarandus

ABSTRACT
A generalised model for herbivores experiencing abundant forage over time is that their numbers erupt and then decline. This model has been applied to fluctuations in caribou (Rangifer tarandus) populations especially those on islands. Since this generalised model for erupting herbivores was first proposed, two assumptions have slipped in (1) that an erupting population will crash; and (2) that the crash will be density-dependent. The problem with the assumptions is that, without testing, they can lead to inappropriate management such as culls. The first assumption arises from uncritical use of earlier accounts and the second assumption from not discriminating between the effects of environmental variation from the effects of the high herbivore numbers on forage availability (density-dependence). Often typical densitydependent effects such as lowered initial reproduction, reduced early survival of calves, and subsequent calf, yearling and juvenile survival are used to justify the contention that there are too many herbivores. But such reasoning is flawed unless cause/effect relationships are established and the role of environmental variation is evaluated. We argue that it is overly simplistic to believe that every population’s subsequent performance and fate will follow a singular pattern with only one paramount factor driving and ultimately dictating an inevitable outcome. The relative importance of unpredictable abiotic factors in influencing and causing variation in the response of ungulate populations should be investigated, no matter whether those factors are sporadic or periodic.
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