Two main hypotheses have been proposed to explain reproductive synchrony exhibited by many species of large herbivores: the predation hypothesis and the seasonality hypothesis. Although examples supporting both hypotheses have been presented, no study has compared the intraseasonal progression of parturition and plant phenology in depredated and non-depredated populations of large herbivores. We monitored, on a daily or near-daily basis, the progression of the caribou (Rangifer tarandus) calving seasons in two populations: the Caribou River population in Alaska, U.S.A., where predators of caribou are present and the Kangerlussuaq-Sisimiut population in West Greenland where such predators have been absent for approximately 4000 years. Simultaneously, we quantified directly the phenological progression of caribou forage plants on spatially replicated plots in both study sites. Parturition was significantly more synchronous in the West Greenland (predator-free) population than in the Alaskan (depredated) population. Progression of the calving seasons in both populations was highly synchronized to the progression of forage plant phenology, and the slopes of these relationships were statistically indistinguishable, with 50% of births having occurred when approximately 60%-70% of forage plant species were emergent. These results document clear synchronization of the timing of parturition by caribou to plant phenology, regardless of predation pressure.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Animal Science and Zoology