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Reindeer Grazing Is Good For Plant Diversity

By   /  December 18, 2017  /  1 Comment

Not only do reindeer bring us joy on Christmas Day, it turns out they can also graze for biodiversity.

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Climate warming reduces the number of plant species in the tundra, but plant-eating animals, such as reindeer and voles, can turn this negative effect into something positive.

“By eating tall and wide-leaved plants, reindeer can increase light availability and thus allow more plant species to co-exist and benefit from warmer conditions,” says Elina Kaarlejärvi, post-doctoral researcher at Umeå University, who led the study.

Earlier studies suggest that tundra plant diversity will decrease in response to a warmer climate. However, it is important to know whether the response depends on the abundance of grazing animals, particularly reindeer, voles and lemmings, which are very common in tundra ecosystems. Researchers at Umeå University in Sweden, and Oulu University in Finland, tested this through experimental warming of vegetation on tundra meadows with and without reindeer and voles.

Grazing exclosures

“We found that the warming increased the number of species in plots that were grazed, because it enabled small tundra plants to appear and grow there. But when we fenced reindeer, voles and lemmings out, vegetation became denser and the light was limited. As a result, many small and slowly-growing plant species were lost,” says Elina Kaarlejärvi.

The researchers investigated what species appeared and disappeared from the study plots over the course of five years. By doing so, they could test what kinds of species were most affected by warming and grazing. The newly published results suggest that herbivores could generally help protect diversity in warmer climates by preventing losses of small and slowly-growing species.

The study was performed in Kilpisjärvi in northwest Finland, where the research team tested the importance of grazing animals, warming, and nutrient availability by combining small greenhouses that increased the summer temperature by 1–2 degrees Celsius, small fences that excluded reindeer, voles and lemmings, as well as by use of fertilization.

This comes to us from Umeå University. Thanks for the research!

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  • Published: 4 months ago on December 18, 2017
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  • Last Modified: December 18, 2017 @ 10:01 am
  • Filed Under: Consider This

About the author

editor and contributor

Kathy worked with the Bureau of Land Management for 12 years before founding Livestock for Landscapes in 2004. Her twelve years at the agency allowed her to pursue her goal of helping communities find ways to live profitably AND sustainably in their environment. She has been researching and working with livestock as a land management tool for over a decade. When she's not helping farmers, ranchers and land managers on-site, she writes articles, and books, and edits videos to help others turn their livestock into landscape managers.

1 Comment

  1. Chip Hines says:

    Climates have changed for millennia.Slow change allows everything to adjust as long as the animals involved are still in place. It is when we change the population of animals that disruptions occur.

    Strictly my opinion, not scientific.

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