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Effects of density-dependence and climate on the dynamics of a Svalbard reindeer population

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To determine the main factors affecting the population dynamics of Svalbard reindeer, we analysed 21 yr of annual censuses, including data on population size, recruitment rate (calves per female) and mortality (number of deaths), from the Reindalen reindeer population. In accordance with previous studies on population dynamics of Svalbard reindeer, we found large inter-annual variation in population size, mortality and recruitment rates within the study area. Population size decreased in years with low recruitment rate as well as high winter mortality and vice versa. Apparently, the fluctuations were due to both direct density-dependent food limitation and variation in winter climate associated with high precipitation and icing of the feeding range. We found no delayed density-dependence or effect of climatic conditions during summer on the population dynamics. The mortality during die-off years was mainly of calves and very old individuals, indicating that the population was more vulnerable to high die off in years following high recruitment rate. These results suggest an unstable interaction between the reindeer population and its food supply in these predator-free environments.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 2001

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