The woodland caribou population in southern British Columbia is declining, but scientists from the University of British Columbia and the University of Alberta have discovered a way to stabilize the population: hunt more moose.
The increasing moose and white-tailed deer populations have contributed to the decline of caribou. All three of these species share a common predator. With the increase in available prey, the local wolf numbers have also increased. The caribou population has not been able to withstand the growing number of wolves as the other prey populations have.
Environmental scientists describe this situation as apparent competition. It describes cases in which a predator population increases with various prey population increases, but only one prey population begins to decline after the influx of predators.
Scientists conducted an experiment that revealed how reducing the moose population allows the caribou population to stabilize. The predator population did not suffer either. The scientists observed that the wolves merely dispersed over a greater area.
While this is not a long-term, comprehensive solution, the scientists offer moose population control as one tool for future management. They also suggest habitat protection and occasional predator control.
To protect caribous in the past, over two million hectares of land in British Columbia already have designated logging restrictions and strict minimum distance requirements between caribou and recreation activities like snowmobiling. However, even with these actions, the projections still show that caribous are heading toward extinction. This is why scientists have been experimenting with more direct management tools for controlling predator-prey relationships.
Source: PeerJ (Peer-reviewed journal) and New York Times