Reindeer is the most abundant ungulate in the Arctic. Climate change will affect their food base as well as the snow conditions they have to cope with in winter. Will they continue to be abundant in the near future?
With its circumpolar distribution and often relatively high population densities, the reindeer (Rangifer tarandus, called caribou in North America) is the most abundant large herbivore and a key component in the arctic tundra ecosystem. It affects the structure of vegetation communities, is important prey for large predators and provide carrion that support the mesopredator guild of facultative scavengers. Semi-domestic reindeer is the dominant ungulate in the low arctic ecosystem at Varanger. In addition, moose (Alces alces) are common in the tundra-forest ecotone and shows habitat overlap with reindeer. In the high arctic tundra ecosystem in Svalbard, the wild Svalbard reindeer (Rangifer tarandus platyrhynchus) is the only large herbivore. In Varanger, reindeer population structure and abundance is mainly determined by the management decisions of the sámi reindeer herders, but also by governmental regulations on maximum herd sizes. In Svalbard, the management goal is to allow natural processes to determine the structure and abundance of the population. Still, members of the local communities can apply for a hunting permit. A positive effect of warmer summers on plant productivity and a negative effect of milder winters on snow and ice conditions are processes that we expect to influence the reindeer populations in both COAT regions.
Read more about the Ungulate module at Varanger and Svalbard