Rangifer tarandus - (Linnaeus, 1758)
Caribou
Other English Common Names: Reindeer
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Rangifer tarandus (Linnaeus, 1758) (TSN 180701)
French Common Names: caribou
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.103369
Element Code: AMALC04010
Informal Taxonomy: Animals, Vertebrates - Mammals - Other Mammals
 
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Craniata Mammalia Artiodactyla Cervidae Rangifer
Genus Size: A - Monotypic genus
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Concept Reference
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Concept Reference: Wilson, D. E., and D. M. Reeder (editors). 1993. Mammal species of the world: a taxonomic and geographic reference. Second edition. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC. xviii + 1206 pp. Available online at: http://www.nmnh.si.edu/msw/.
Concept Reference Code: B93WIL01NAUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Rangifer tarandus
Taxonomic Comments: Cronin (1992) found considerable variation in mtDNA among populations in Alberta, Labrador, Newfoundland, and Alaska; geographic differentiation was evident, but woodland and barren ground subspecies were not distinguishable by mtDNA genotypes. Populations of R. t. pearyi on the Queen Elizabeth Islands are genetically and possibly ecologically distinct from all other forms of Rangifer, including those on the southern tier of arctic islands (south of 74 degrees N latitude, excluding Baffin and Bylot islands) (Miller, 1991 COSEWIC report). See Grubb (in Wilson and Reeder 2005) for brief discussion of currently recognized subspecies and subspecies groups.
Conservation Status
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NatureServe Status

Global Status: G5
Global Status Last Reviewed: 04Apr2016
Global Status Last Changed: 19Nov1996
Ranking Methodology Used: Ranked by inspection
Rounded Global Status: G5 - Secure
Nation: United States
National Status: N4 (05Sep1996)
Nation: Canada
National Status: N5 (08Nov2016)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Alaska (S5), Idaho (S1), Maine (SX), Michigan (SX), Minnesota (SX), Montana (SX), New Hampshire (SX), New York (SX), North Dakota (SX), Vermont (SX), Washington (S1), Wisconsin (SX)
Canada Alberta (S1S2), British Columbia (S3?), Labrador (S1S2), Manitoba (S4), New Brunswick (SX), Newfoundland Island (S4), Northwest Territories (S4), Nova Scotia (SX), Nunavut (S4), Ontario (S4), Prince Edward Island (SX), Quebec (S5), Saskatchewan (S3), Yukon Territory (S3S4)

Other Statuses

Implied Status under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (USESA): PS
Comments on USESA: Subspecies caribou (woodland caribou) in Idaho, Washington, and part of southeastern British Columbia is listed by USFWS as Endangered. Subspecies pearyi and the Dolphin and Union population are currently under review for listing as endangered or threatened. In a 12-month petition finding to delist the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), USFWS (2014) found that delisting the species is not warranted, but rather, a revision to the current listed entity to define a distinct population segment (DPS), is appropriate. As such, USFWS propose to amend the current listing of the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou by defining the Southern Mountain Caribou DPS, which includes the currently listed southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou, and we propose to designate the status of the Southern Mountain Caribou DPS as threatened. If finalized, the Southern Mountain Caribou DPS will be listed as threatened. This DPS includes the currently listed southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou, a transboundary population that moves between British Columbia, Canada, and northern Idaho and northeastern Washington, United States (Federal Register, 08 May 2014).
Implied Status under the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC):PS:X,E,T,SC
Comments on COSEWIC: Dawson Caribou is designated Extinct; Torngat Mountains population is designated Endangered; Atlantic-Gaspésie population is designated Endangered; Dolphin and Union Caribou is designated Endangered; Barren-ground population is designated Threatened; Boreal population is designated Threatened; Southern Mountain population is designated Threatened; Northern Mountain population is designated Special Concern; Newfoundland population is designated Special Concern.
IUCN Red List Category: LC - Least concern

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent: >2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)
Range Extent Comments: Caribou have an arctic, subarctic, and boreal distribution in tundra and taiga of the Northern Hemisphere (Grubb, in Wilson and Reeder 2005; Hummel and Ray 2008). Elevational range extends from sea level to over 2,500 meters in some areas (Cichowski et al. 2004). In northern Europe and Asia, this species is known as reindeer, and the species is represented by domesticated, semi-domesticated, and wild populations. Historically, the range extended as far south as central Idaho, the Great Lakes area, and northern New England in North America and into central Germany in Europe. In North America, wild populations currently are extant primarily in Alaska and Canada, with small populations extending into northeastern Washington and northern Idaho (these caribou primarily use areas in adjacent Canada) (COSEWIC 2002). Attempts to reintroduce caribou in the eastern United States in the 1960s and 1980s were unsuccessful. The species has been introduced and now exists as feral populations in Iceland, Kerguelen Islands, South Georgia Island, Pribilof Islands, and St. Matthew Island (Grubb, in Wilson and Reeder 2005). See Bernard and Horn (1989) for a summary of introductions in eastern North America.

Population Size Comments: In North America, the overall population of caribou exceeds 3,000,000 (Cichowski et al. 2004).

Overall Threat Impact Comments: Recent global declines in caribou and reindeer populations appear to be associated with changes in phenology, spatiotemporal changes in species overlap (e.g., other ungulate species, predators, disease organisms), and increased frequency of extreme weather events (Vors and Boyce 2009).

The Porcupine caribou herd in northeastern Alaska and adjacent northwestern Canada and the adjacent Central Arctic herd are potentially threatened by onshore petroleum exploration and development; industrial development on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge could increase calf mortality if calving were displaced south and east of potential development areas (Fancy and Whitten 1991). However, Pollard et al. (1996) documented high use of oil fields by caribou during periods of high mosquito and fly activity.

Peary caribou (subspecies PEARYI), low arctic islands population: high winter mortality, low reproduction, and minimal recruitment, with additional pressure from hunting and disturbances associated with industrial activities (see 1991 COSEWIC report by F. L. Miller; also 1979 COSEWIC report by Gunn et al.).

Failed reintroductions often result when white-tailed deer are common; caribou probably contract meningeal worm disease from white-tailed deer (Bernard and Horn 1989).

Predation by an expanding coyote population threatened a remnant caribou herd in southeastern Quebec (Crete and Desrosiers 1995).

Long-term steady decline in the taiga-dwelling population in Ontario has been associated with the expansion of forest harvesting (Schaefer 2003). See also files for subspecies CARIBOU (woodland caribou).

Short-term Trend: Decline of 50-70%
Short-term Trend Comments: Vors and Boyce (2009) gathered population data for 58 major caribou and reindeer herds throughout the global range and found that 34 were reported as declining, eight were increasing, and 16 had no data. The authors gathered 40 time series of population estimates for smaller herds within the major herd ranges. The time series spanned an average of 21.6 years and population estimates were available for an average of 9.9 years. Of these herds, 11 were in decline for fewer than 10 years, eight were in decline for 10-19 years, and six were in decline for more than 20 years. Mean percentage decline from known population maxima for these herds was 57 percent.

Long-term Trend:  
Long-term Trend Comments: The Porcupine caribou herd in northeastern Alaska and adjacent northwestern Canada increased from 135,000 in 1983 to 178,000 in 1989 (Fancy and Whitten 1991, Fancy et al. 1994). Peary caribou (subspecies PEARYI): total population is much lower than historic levels. Banks Island population: continuing population decline to critical levels. High arctic population: continuing population decline to low levels (90% decline in the 3 decades prior to 1991). See 1991 COSEWIC report by F. L. Miller; also 1979 COSEWIC report by Gunn et al. In Ontario, half of the historical range of taiga-dwelling caribou was lost between 1880 and 1990 (Schaefer 2003). From the early 1960s to 2000, the Buchans Plateau caribou herd in Newfoundland, Canada., grew at 6.5% per year, although survival and recruitment indicated a declining growth rate (1.4%) by the late 1990s (Mahoney and Schaefer 2002).

See also files for subspecies CARIBOU (woodland caribou).

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Distribution
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Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) Caribou have an arctic, subarctic, and boreal distribution in tundra and taiga of the Northern Hemisphere (Grubb, in Wilson and Reeder 2005; Hummel and Ray 2008). Elevational range extends from sea level to over 2,500 meters in some areas (Cichowski et al. 2004). In northern Europe and Asia, this species is known as reindeer, and the species is represented by domesticated, semi-domesticated, and wild populations. Historically, the range extended as far south as central Idaho, the Great Lakes area, and northern New England in North America and into central Germany in Europe. In North America, wild populations currently are extant primarily in Alaska and Canada, with small populations extending into northeastern Washington and northern Idaho (these caribou primarily use areas in adjacent Canada) (COSEWIC 2002). Attempts to reintroduce caribou in the eastern United States in the 1960s and 1980s were unsuccessful. The species has been introduced and now exists as feral populations in Iceland, Kerguelen Islands, South Georgia Island, Pribilof Islands, and St. Matthew Island (Grubb, in Wilson and Reeder 2005). See Bernard and Horn (1989) for a summary of introductions in eastern North America.

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
Color legend for Distribution Map
Endemism: occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States AK, ID, MEextirpated, MIextirpated, MNextirpated, MTextirpated, NDextirpated, NHextirpated, NYextirpated, VTextirpated, WA, WIextirpated
Canada AB, BC, LB, MB, NBextirpated, NF, NSextirpated, NT, NU, ON, PEextirpated, QC, SK, YT

Range Map
Note: Range depicted for New World only. The scale of the maps may cause narrow coastal ranges or ranges on small islands not to appear. Not all vagrant or small disjunct occurrences are depicted. For migratory birds, some individuals occur outside of the passage migrant range depicted. For information on how to obtain shapefiles of species ranges see our Species Mapping pages at www.natureserve.org/conservation-tools/data-maps-tools.

Range Map Compilers: Sechrest, 2002


U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
ID Bonner (16017), Boundary (16021)
WA Pend Oreille (53051), Stevens (53065)
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
17 Lower Kootenai (17010104)+, Pend Oreille Lake (17010214)+, Priest (17010215)+, Pend Oreille (17010216)+, Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake (17020001)+
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
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Reproduction Comments: Breeding occurs in late September and October. Cows bear usually 1 young in May or June. Newborn calves are precocious and soon able to walk. Calves and most yearlings commonly are not pregnant (Cichowski et al. 2004). Adult females sometimes skip reproduction for a year, in response to nutritional stress (Cameron 1994). In northeastern Alaska and adjacent Canada, 80% of adult females (age 3 years or older) gave birth each year (Fancy et al. 1994).
Ecology Comments: Caribou are generally gregarious; in tundra, they usually are bands of 10-50 or loose herds of several hundred or more than 1,000 individuals. Males and females may segregate seasonally.

Caribou populations often incur high rates of calf mortality resulting from predation, inclement weather, or malnutrition (Bergerud et al. 1984, Bergerud and Ballard 1988).

White-tailed deer carry and disperse into the environment meningeal worms that usually are fatal to moose and caribou but are clinically benign in deer; hence, white-tailed deer, through worm-mediated impacts, may exclude moose and caribou from otherwise suitable areas (see Schmitz and Nudds 1994).

Habitat Type: Terrestrial
Non-Migrant: Y
Locally Migrant: Y
Long Distance Migrant: Y
Mobility and Migration Comments: In some areas, caribou populations undertake seasonal migrations. Tundra populations may migrate especially long distances between summer and winter ranges. For example, in northern Alaska, caribou winter in northern foothills of the Brooks Range, females reach calving areas along the coastal plain by mid-May; the population is highly aggregated near the arctic coast and river deltas in July (Carruthers et al. 1987); the return migration to winter range occurs in September-October; cows annually may travel over 5,000 kilometers (Fancy et al. 1989). Heard and Williams (1992) described the migration in the Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Alaska as follows: cows begin migration to tundra in March-April, reach calving grounds in time for early June parturition; adult males migrate later but most reach tundra by June; they return to tree line by early September, but may not enter forest until October. Mountain ecotype populations, such as those in western Alberta, Canada, often make less extensive seasonal elevational migrations between alpine/subalpine summer habitats and lower elevation forested foothills used in winter, though some regions caribou may winter in alpine areas (COSEWIC 2002, Alberta Sustainable... 2010). Boreal ecotype populations commonly move among different areas throughout the year, but areas occupied in summer and winter often exhibit considerable overlap (Stuart-Smith et al. 1997, Alberta Sustainable... 2010).

Home range size for individual caribou is highly variable. In northeastern Alberta, multi-year home ranges (100% minimum convex polygon averaged 711 square kilometers (Stuart-Smith et al. 1997). In Quebec, home range size of adult females averaged 148 sq km and did not vary seasonally or annually (Ouellet et al. 1996). In other areas, home ranges may be smaller (less than 100 sq km) or much larger. Tundra caribou may travel extensively in summer in attempts to avoid bothersome insects (Fancy et al. 1989).

Palustrine Habitat(s): Bog/fen, Riparian
Terrestrial Habitat(s): Alpine, Forest - Conifer, Tundra, Woodland - Conifer
Habitat Comments: Across the vast range, caribou habitats include arctic tundra (including tussock tundra and sedge meadow), subarctic taiga, mature coniferous forest, forested peatlands, semi-open and open bogs, rocky ridges with jack pine, and riparian zones (Banfield 1974, COSEWIC 2002, Feldhamer et al. 2003, Hummel and Ray 2008). Some migratory herds in Alaska, Yukon, and Northwest Territories move seasonally between boreal forest (used in winter) and tundra (summer habitat). In summer, woodland caribou frequent open or semi-open habitats such as alpine tundra, upper subalpine, peatlands, islands, and shorelines where nutritious plants such as forbs and sedges are available (COSEWIC 2002). Large, low productivity, lichen-rich mature and old forests and forested peatlands are critical in winter (COSEWIC 2002); such areas provide critical food resources and are important spatial refuges from wolf predation (wolves tend to select more productive habitats in which deer, moose, or elk are more numerous) (Alberta Sustainable Resource Development and Alberta Conservation Association 2010). In winter in northeastern Alberta, woodland caribou selected forested fen peatland complexes; feeding activity was concentrated in forested raised bog islands, which may have been related to increased lichen biomass in these habitats (Bradshaw et al. 1995). "Mountain" caribou of southeastern British Columbia depend on older coniferous forests with high canopy closure, especially in late winter (Apps et al. 2001).

In northern British Columbia, pregnant females seek high south slopes in mountains as calving sites (Bergerud et al. 1984). In the Porcupine Herd of northeastern Alaska and northwestern Yukon, females give birth on patches of bare ground within snowfields (Eastland et al. 1989); cows select areas north of the foothills (snow conditions permitting), thereby reducing exposure of calves to predators.
 

Adult Food Habits: Herbivore
Immature Food Habits: Herbivore
Food Comments: Overall, the diet may include the leaves, buds and bark of trees and shrubs; grasses; sedges; forbs; fungi; and terrestrial and arboreal lichens; lichens are of critical importance in most areas in winter but not on certain islands in North America (Banfield 1974, Feldhamer et al. 2003). Winter diet varies among populations; for example, in boreal ecotype populations, it consists mostly of terrestrial lichens with some use of arboreal lichens, whereas in mountain ecotype populations the winter diet may be almost exclusively arboreal hair lichens, with use of terrestrial lichens and other ground-based foods occurring only in early winter (Cichowski et al. 2004). In the southern Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia, caribou diet shifted from primarily vascular taxa during snow-free months to an arboreal lichen-conifer diet during late winter; in winters with slower snow accumulation, caribou foraged extensively on myrtle boxwood (Pachistima) and other vascular plants (Rominger and Oldemeyer 1990).
Adult Phenology: Crepuscular, Diurnal
Immature Phenology: Crepuscular, Diurnal
Phenology Comments: Most activity is diurnal or crepuscular.
Length: 210 centimeters
Weight: 270000 grams
Economic Attributes Not yet assessed
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Management Summary
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Management Requirements: Based on genetic differences, translocations of caribou from the southern tier of arctic islands in Canada to arctic islands farther north would not be biologically sound (Miller, 1991 COSEWIC report).

Murphy and Curatolo (1987) recommended that elevated pipelines and heavily traveled roads be separated to minimize impact on caribou in northern Alaska.

Population/Occurrence Delineation
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Use Class: Not applicable
Subtype(s): Calving area, Rutting area, Summer range
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Evidence of historical presence, or current and likely recurring presence of a specific population (herd). Such evidence minimally includes collection or reliable observation and documentation of one or more individuals in appropriate habitat over several years.
Mapping Guidance: Individual occurrences should be mapped as multiple, adjacent polygons, each labelled with appropriate feature labels.
Alternate Separation Procedure: Occurrence separations should be based on populations that exhibit specific migration patterns, or on appropriate resource agency management units, rather than on specific prescribed distances.
Separation Justification: Some herd territories may be immediately adjacent to one another, and in some cases overlaps in EOs may occur, especially where the territory of one ecotype (e.g., 'barren ground' caribou) overlaps that of another ecotype (e.g., 'mountain' caribou).
Date: 23Sep2004
Author: Cannings, S., and G. Hammerson
Population/Occurrence Viability
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U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
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Authors/Contributors
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NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 17Jul2009
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Hammerson, G., and S. Cannings
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 21Oct2015
Element Ecology & Life History Author(s): HAMMERSON, G., MINOR REVISIONS BY S. CANNINGS

Zoological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

References
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  • Addison, R.B. 1971. Moose and caribou surveys winters 1968-69 and 1969-70. Pp. 29-39, in, Department of Lands and Forests. 1971. The Round Lake Ojibwa: The People, The Land, The Resources, 1968-1970. Indian Development Study in Northwestern Ontario. 378 pp.

  • Ahti, T. 1959. Preliminary Survey of the Range of Woodland Caribou in Ontario. Presented at the Dorset Fur Advisory Committee Meeting, April 15-16, 1959. 10 pp.

  • Alvo, R. 1998. National status evaluation of 20 selected animal species inhabiting Canada's forests. Final Report prepared for the Canadian Pulp and Paper Association, the Biodiversity Convention Office and the Canadian Forest Service. 328 pp.

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  • Eastland, W. G., R. T. Bowyer, and S. G. Fancy. 1989. Effects of snow cover on selection of calving sites by caribou. J. Mamm. 70:824-828.

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