Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Climate change can alter predator–prey dynamics and population viability of prey


For many organisms, climate change can directly drive population declines, but it is less clear how such variation may influence populations indirectly through modified biotic interactions. For instance, how will climate change alter complex, multi-species relationships that are modulated by climatic variation and that underlie ecosystem-level processes? Caribou (Rangifer tarandus), a keystone species in Newfoundland, Canada, provides a useful model for unravelling potential and complex long-term implications of climate change on biotic interactions and population change. We measured cause-specific caribou calf predation (1990–2013) in Newfoundland relative to seasonal weather patterns. We show that black bear (Ursus americanus) predation is facilitated by time-lagged higher summer growing degree days, whereas coyote (Canis latrans) predation increases with current precipitation and winter temperature. Based on future climate forecasts for the region, we illustrate that, through time, coyote predation on caribou calves could become increasingly important, whereas the influence of black bear would remain unchanged. From these predictions, demographic projections for caribou suggest long-term population limitation specifically through indirect effects of climate change on calf predation rates by coyotes. While our work assumes limited impact of climate change on other processes, it illustrates the range of impact that climate change can have on predator–prey interactions. We conclude that future efforts to predict potential effects of climate change on populations and ecosystems should include assessment of both direct and indirect effects, including climate–predator interactions.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2


  1. Atwood TC et al (2007) Comparative patterns of predation by cougars and recolonizing wolves in Montana’s Madison range. J Wildl Manag 71:1098–1106

  2. Bastille-Rousseau G (2015) Demography and habitat selection of Newfoundland caribou, PhD thesis, Trent University, p 248

  3. Bastille-Rousseau G et al (2011) Foraging strategies by omnivores: are black bears actively searching for ungulate neonates or are they simply opportunistic predators? Ecography (Cop.) 34:588–596

  4. Bastille-Rousseau G et al (2013) Population decline in semi-migratory caribou (Rangifer tarandus): intrinsic or extrinsic drivers? Can J Zool 91:820–828

  5. Bastille-Rousseau G et al (2015) Unveiling trade-offs in resource selection of migratory caribou using a mechanistic movement model of availability. Ecography (Cop.) 38:1049–1059

  6. Bastille-Rousseau G et al (2016a) Temporal variation in habitat use, co-occurrence, and risk among generalist predators and a shared prey. Can J Zool 94:191–198

  7. Bastille-Rousseau G et al (2016b) Phase-dependent climate–predator interactions explain three decades of variation in neonatal caribou survival. J Anim Ecol 85:445–456

  8. Bateman BL et al (2012) Biotic interactions influence the projected distribution of a specialist mammal under climate change. Divers Distrib 18:861–872

  9. Beaumont LJ et al (2008) Why is the choice of future climate scenarios for species distribution modelling important? Ecol Lett 11:1135–1146

  10. Bellard C et al (2012) Impacts of climate change on the future of biodiversity. Ecol Lett 15:365–377

  11. Boudreau S, Payette S (2004) Caribou-induced changes in species dominance of lichen woodlands: an analysis of plant remains. Am J Bot 91:422–429

  12. Brook BW et al (2008) Synergies among extinction drivers under global change. Trends Ecol Evol 23:453–460

  13. Burnham KP, Anderson DR (2002) Model selection and multimodel inference. Springer, New York

  14. Coulson T et al (2000) The relative roles of density and climatic variation on population dynamics and fecundity rates in three contrasting ungulate species. Proc R Soc B Biol Sci 267:1771–1779

  15. Couturier S et al (2009a) Variation in calf body mass in migratory caribou: the role of habitat, climate, and movements. J Mammal 90:442–452

  16. Couturier S et al (2009b) Body-condition dynamics in a northern ungulate gaining fat in winter. Can J Zool 87:367–378

  17. Cox DR, Snell EJ (1989) Analysis of binary data. Chapman and Hall, London

  18. Dell AI et al (2014) Temperature dependence of trophic interactions are driven by asymmetry of species responses and foraging strategy (M Humphries, Ed.). J Anim Ecol 83:70–84

  19. Environment Canada (2013) National climate data and information archive

  20. Festa-Bianchet M et al (2011) Conservation of caribou (Rangifer tarandus) in Canada: an uncertain future. Can J Zool 89:419–434

  21. Fieberg J, Delgiudice GD (2009) What time is it? Choice of time origin and scale in extended proportional hazards models. Ecology 90:1687–1697

  22. Fox J (2002) An R and S-Plus companion to applied regression. SAGE Publications Inc, Thousand Oaks

  23. Gaillard JM et al (2000) Temporal variation in fitness components and population dynamics of large herbivores. Annu Rev Ecol Evol Syst 31:367–393

  24. Griffin KA et al (2011) Neonatal mortality of elk driven by climate, predator phenology and predator community composition. J Anim Ecol 80:1246–1257

  25. Gustine DD et al (2006) Calf survival of woodland caribou in a multi-predator ecosystem. Wildl Monogr 165:1–32

  26. Hansen BBB et al (2013) Climate events synchronize the dynamics of a resident vertebrate community in the high arctic. Science 67:313–315

  27. Heisey DM, Patterson BR (2006) A review of methods to estimate cause-specific mortality in presence of competing risks. J Wildl Manag 70:1544–1555

  28. Heller NE, Zavaleta ES (2009) Biodiversity management in the face of climate change: a review of 22 years of recommendations. Biol Conserv 142:14–32

  29. Hellmann JJ et al (2008) Five potential consequences of climate change for invasive species. Conserv Biol 22:534–543

  30. James ARC et al (2004) Spatial separation of caribou from moose and its relation to predation by wolves. J Wildl Manag 68:799–809

  31. Joly K et al (2011) Linkages between large-scale climate patterns and the dynamics of Arctic caribou populations. Ecography (Cop.) 34:345–352

  32. La Sorte FA, Jetz W (2010) Projected range contractions of montane biodiversity under global warming. Proc Biol Sci 277:3401–3410

  33. Lacy RC, Pollak JP (2014) Vortex: a stochastic simulation of the extinction process. Version 10.0. Chicago Zoological Society

  34. Lunn M, McNeil D (1995) Applying Cox regression to competing risks. Biometrics 51:524–532

  35. Mahoney SP, Schaefer JA (2002) Long-term changes in demography and migration of Newfoundland caribou. J Mammal 83:957–963

  36. Mahoney SP et al (1990) Woodland caribou calf mortality in insular Newfoundland. Int Congr Game Biol 19:592–599

  37. Mahoney SP et al (2011) Morphological change in Newfoundland caribou: effects of abundance and climate. Rangifer 31:21–34

  38. Manchester S, Bullock J (2000) The impacts of non-native species on UK biodiversity and the effectiveness of control. J Appl Ecol 37:845–864

  39. McGrath M (2004) The Newfoundland coyote. DRC Pub

  40. McKenney DW et al (2011) Customized spatial climate models for North America. Bull Am Meteorol Soc 92:1611–1622

  41. Mills LS et al (2013) Camouflage mismatch in seasonal coat color due to decreased snow duration. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 110:11660

  42. Mumma MA et al (2014) Enhanced understanding of predator-prey relationships using molecular methods to identify predator species, individual and sex. Mol Ecol Resour 14:100–108

  43. Mumma MA et al (2016) A comparison of morphological and molecular diet analyses of predator scats. J Mammal (in press)

  44. Murray D et al (1995) Hunting behaviour of a sympatric felid and canid in relation to vegetative cover. Anim Behav 50:1203–1210

  45. Newton EJ et al (2014) Remote sensing reveals long-term effects of caribou on tundra vegetation. Polar Biol 37:715–725

  46. Nilsen E, Linnell J (2009) Climate, season, and social status modulate the functional response of an efficient stalking predator: the Eurasian lynx. J Anim Ecol 78:741–751

  47. Öhlund G et al (2014) Temperature dependence of predation depends on the relative performance of predators and prey. Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci (in press)

  48. O’Quigley J et al (2005) Explained randomness in proportional hazards models. Stat Med 24:479–489

  49. Owen-Smith N (2014) Spatial ecology of large herbivore populations. Ecography (Cop.) 37:416–430

  50. Peers MJL et al (2014) Prey switching as a means of enhancing persistence in predators at the trailing southern edge. Glob Change Biol 20:1126–1135

  51. Pettorelli N et al (2005) The relative role of winter and spring conditions: linking climate and landscape-scale plant phenology to alpine reindeer body mass. Biol Lett. 1:24–26

  52. Pettorelli N et al (2007) Early onset of vegetation growth vs. rapid green-up: impacts on juvenile mountain ungulates. Ecology 88:381–390

  53. Pinard V et al (2012) Calving rate, calf survival rate, and habitat selection of forest-dwelling caribou in a highly managed landscape. J Wildl Manag 76:189–199

  54. Post E, Forchhammer MC (2008) Climate change reduces reproductive success of an Arctic herbivore through trophic mismatch. Philos Trans R Soc B Biol Sci 363:2369–2375

  55. Post ES, Klein DR (1996) Relationships between graminoid growth form and levels of grazing by caribou (Rangifer tarandus) in Alaska. Oecologia 107:364–372

  56. Post E et al (1999) Ecosystem consequences of wolf behavioural response to climate. Nature 401:905–907

  57. Raupach MR et al (2007) Global and regional drivers of accelerating CO2 emissions. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 104:10288–10293

  58. Réale D et al (2003) Genetic and plastic responses of a northern mammal to climate change. Proc Biol Sci 270:591–596

  59. Robertson BA et al (2013) Ecological novelty and the emergence of evolutionary traps. Trends Ecol Evol 28:552–560

  60. Schaefer JA, Mahoney SP, Weir JN, Luther JG, Soulliere CE (2016) Decades of habitat use reveal food limitation of Newfoundland caribou. J Mammal 97:386–393

  61. Sih A et al (2011) Evolution and behavioural responses to human-induced rapid environmental change. Evol Appl 4:367–387

  62. Simberloff D (2006) Invasional meltdown 6 years later: important phenomenon, unfortunate metaphor, or both? Ecol Lett 9:912–919

  63. Simberloff D, B Von Holle (1999) Positive interactions of nonindigenous species: invasional meltdown? Biol Invasions 1:21–32

  64. Simberloff D et al (2013) Impacts of biological invasions: what’s what and the way forward. Trends Ecol Evol 28:58–66

  65. Stenseth NC et al (2002) Ecological effects of climate fluctuations. Science 297:1292–1296

  66. Stenseth NC et al (2004) Snow conditions may create an invisible barrier for lynx. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 101:10632–10634

  67. Travis JMJ (2003) Climate change and habitat destruction: a deadly anthropogenic cocktail. Proc R Soc B Biol Sci 270:467–473

  68. Tyler NJC (2010) Climate, snow, ice, crashes, and declines in populations of reindeer and caribou (Rangifer tarandus L.). Ecol Monogr 80:197–219

  69. Tylianakis JM et al (2008) Global change and species interactions in terrestrial ecosystems. Ecol Lett 11:1351–1363

  70. Van der Putten WH et al (2010) Predicting species distribution and abundance responses to climate change: why it is essential to include biotic interactions across trophic levels. Philos Trans R Soc B Biol Sci 365:2025–2034

  71. Vors LS, Boyce MS (2009) Global declines of caribou and reindeer. Glob Change Biol 15:2626–2633

  72. Vucic-Pestic O et al (2011) Warming up the system: higher predator feeding rates but lower energetic efficiencies. Glob Chang Biol 17:1301–1310

  73. Walther G et al (2002) Ecological responses to recent climate change. Nature 416:389–395

  74. Weir JN et al (2014) Caribou data synthesis—Progress Report #2. Status of the Newfoundland population of woodland caribou. Technical Bulletin No. 008. Sustainable Development and Strategic Science, Department of Environment and Conservation, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador

  75. Zager P, Beecham J (2006) The role of American black bears and brown bears as predators on ungulates in North America. Ursus 17:95–108

  76. Zimova M et al (2016) High fitness costs of climate change-induced camouflage mismatch (J Lawler, Ed.). Ecol Lett 19:299–307

Download references


This project was a component of the Newfoundland & Labrador Caribou Strategy, 2008–2013. This study was funded by the Institute for Biodiversity, Ecosystem Science & Sustainability; the Sustainable Development & Strategic Science Division of the Newfoundland & Labrador Department of Environment & Conservation; and the Safari Club International Foundation. G. Bastille-Rousseau was supported by a scholarship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. We thank K. P. Lewis for comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. We thank the Newfoundland & Labrador Department of Environment & Conservation for providing these long-term survival data as well as the efforts of many government personnel in the caribou captures and monitoring over the last four decades. Funding was provided by NSERC.

Author information

GBR, JAS, and DLM designed the study. MJLP, EHE, MAM, NDR and SPM collected and provided data. GBR performed the analysis with assistance from MJLP, EHE and DLM. GBR drafted the manuscript with inputs from all co-authors.

Correspondence to Guillaume Bastille-Rousseau.

Additional information

Communicated by Ilpo Kojola.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 225 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Bastille-Rousseau, G., Schaefer, J.A., Peers, M.J.L. et al. Climate change can alter predator–prey dynamics and population viability of prey. Oecologia 186, 141–150 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-017-4017-y

Download citation


  • Cause-specific survival analysis
  • Conservation biology
  • Caribou (Rangifer tarandus)
  • Population dynamics
  • Predator–prey interactions