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Can management regulate the population size of wild reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) through harvest?

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We analyzed a 51-year time series of harvest data from a small population of wild mountain reindeer (Rangifer tarandus (L., 1758)) in southern Norway and examined the relative role of biological and management related processes as drivers of its population dynamics. The population is monitored annually to obtain information on population size and structure, and since 1980, managers have attempted to stabilize the population at about 1.1 reindeer/km2. The harvest increased at a higher rate than the population size and was thus probably sufficient to not only limit but also regulate population size. Phase plot analyses showed that the population has varied around a density attractor of about 1.0 reindeer/km2 since 1980 and is therefore close to the targeted population size of 1.1 reindeer/km2. However, the annual harvest explained only 49% of the variation in population growth rate (λ) in a linear regression model, despite relatively low variation in population productivity (proportion of calves). Between 1999 and 2006, the population in Forolhogna declined by almost 50% before recovering to its previous size. We suggest that both imprecise population estimates and high harvest effectiveness at reduced population densities contributed to this decline. As such, this study points to some of the obstacles managers are facing when trying to stabilize productive ungulate populations even when they live in closed populations and in stable, predator-free environments.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: February 3, 2012

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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