Impacts of winter feeding of reindeer on vegetation and soil in the sub-Arctic: insights from a feeding experiment
The overall impacts of winter feeding, including the effects of both forage and reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), were studied in an experiment in the Hammastunturi herding cooperative (68°N), Finland, with 300 reindeer in a sub-xeric heath forest (35 ha) during March/April 2009 and 2010. The feeding practices on the 50 plots were: (1) feeding with grass silagehay with leftovers cleared in the spring; (2) feeding with grass silage+hay with leftovers not cleared; and (3) feeding with pellets. In addition, (4) unfenced and (5) fenced control plots were included, on which the reindeer were not fed. No invasive plant species introduced through grass silage+hay were observed on the plots. The coverage of Deschampsia flexuosa increased on grass silage+hay plots after the first winter, and both coverage and height of the grass increased after the second winter. The coverage of Dicranum sp. and Pleurozium schreberi was lower on plots where reindeer were fed with grass silage (leftover silage not cleared) vs. controls. Some dwarf shrubs, e.g., Calluna vulgaris, showed a similar response after the second winter. The N content of Empetrum nigrum was higher on grass silage plots (leftover silage not cleared) after the first winter vs. controls. After two winters, the N content of both E. nigrum and Vaccinium myrtillus was increased. Of the soil variables studied, C/N decreased on grass silage+hay plots vs. fenced controls. We conclude that even a moderate level of feeding may cause changes that can lead to a gradual shift from nutrient-poor heath forest towards a more nutrient-rich type.
Keywords: Reindeer herding; supplementary winter feeding; sub-xeric heath forest; forage
(Published: 20 March 2013)
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Citation: Polar Research 2013, 32, 18610, http://dx.doi.org/10.3402/polar.v32i0.18610
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Authors retain copyright of their work, with first publication rights granted to the Norwegian Polar Institute.