Influence of forage preferences and habitat use on 13C and 15N abundance in wild caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) and moose (Alces alces) from Canada

Isotopes Environ Health Stud. 2010 Mar;46(1):107-21. doi: 10.1080/10256010903388410.


Stable isotope composition (delta(13)C and delta(15)N) of moose (Alces alces) and caribou (Rangifer tarandus) hair from the boreal forest of Jacques-Cartier Park and Cote-Nord (Quebec) and arctic tundra of Queen Maud Gulf and Southampton Island (Nunavut) was investigated as an indicator of dietary preferences and habitat use. Values of delta(13)C(hair) and delta(15)N(hair) in moose were consistently lower compared to those of caribou. This is consistent with the depletion in (13)C and (15)N in the plants preferred by moose, essentially browse (shrub and tree leaves), compared to caribou forage, which included significant amounts of graminoids, lichen and fungi. The delta(13)C(hair) values of caribou differed between closed boreal forest and open-tundra ecosystems. This pattern followed that expected from the canopy effect observed in plant communities. Variation in delta(15)N(hair) values of caribou was probably linked to the effect of different climatic conditions on plant communities. This study underlines the potential of isotopic analysis for studies on diet and habitat selection within a pure C(3) plant environment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Wild / metabolism
  • Animals, Wild / physiology
  • Canada
  • Carbon Isotopes / analysis*
  • Climate
  • Diet / veterinary*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Environmental Monitoring*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Hair / chemistry
  • Nitrogen Isotopes / analysis*
  • Reindeer / metabolism
  • Reindeer / physiology*
  • Trees


  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Nitrogen Isotopes