Comparative movement behaviour and habitat selection of semi-domestic herbivore : central-place grazing versus free-range grazing in Reindeer (Rangifer t. tarandus)

University essay from SLU/Dept. of Wildlife, Fish and Environmental Studies

Abstract: Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus tarandus) husbandry mainly relies on natural pastures to ensure a sustainable animal production. In Sweden, coniferous forest areas are most commonly utilized as grazing grounds during winter. Additionally, supplementary feeding is sometimes provided for free-ranging animals to ensure their survival. The main reasons for the provision of supplementary feeding are loss of lichen pastures due to modern forestry practices and climate change. It is important to understand habitat selection of reindeer and how this selection differs when supplementary food is provided during winter. To answer these questions, GPS collared reindeer data was analyzed for winters between years 2007 – 2010 and 2014 – 2016, comparing time periods when animals relied on natural pasture with periods when animals were provided with supplementary feeding. The study area is situated within Malå herding district in Västerbotten County in northern Sweden. The aim of this project was to investigate 1) habitat selection and space use pattern, 2) differences in home range size between supplementary fed and naturally grazing reindeer, 3) to what extent reindeer move during the winter period when they are not supplementary fed, and 4) how often they re-visit and stay close to the feeding stations when they are supplementary fed. The results clearly showed that reindeer select for lichen-rich forests, open areas and clear cuts both when freely ranging or supplementary fed. The choice of lichen-rich forest habitat becomes stronger when animal were not supplementary fed. The results also showed that reindeer avoided roads during winter. In addition, utility distribution covered a larger geographical area when they were feeding on natural pastures as reindeer covered large geographical area. The frequency of revisitations and time spent around the feeding stations varied between years. The findings of this research can be useful to face the future challenges associated with reindeer husbandry management in different areas with respect to their home range size, habitat selectivity, re-visitation frequency and time spend inside the feeding stations. The study results could be compared with the herders’ knowledge and shared with them for coordination and dialogue between different sectors.

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