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Fire, Lichens, and Caribou

David R. Klein
Journal of Range Management
Vol. 35, No. 3 (May, 1982), pp. 390-395
DOI: 10.2307/3898326
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3898326
Page Count: 6
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Fire, Lichens, and Caribou
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Abstract

Continental populations of caribou (Rangifer tarandus) usually winter in the northern taiga. Fire is a natural feature of the ecology of the taiga but its effect on the winter range of caribou has been the subject of conflicting reports in the literature. Lichens, which are an important component of the diet of caribou in winter, are associated with late successional stages in the post fire sequence; therefore their loss when old growth forests burn has been considered detrimental to caribou. On the other hand, several authors have suggested that lichens are not essential for caribou in winter and therefore their loss through forest fires does not seriously affect caribou. Recent nutritional investigations with reindeer and caribou have demonstrated the importance of lichens in their winter diet. Botanical studies have shown that fires are essential for the long-term productivity of the boreal forest and they account for much of the habitat diversity that characterizes caribou winter range. Extremely old forest stands show reduced lichen productivity. I conclude that, when viewed on a short-term basis of 50 years or less, fire may destroy lichens and other forage, thus reducing the taiga's potential to support caribou. Over long-time periods, often of a century or more, fire appears essential for maintaining ecological diversity and forage production for caribou.

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