Life-history variation of wild reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) in the highly productive North Ottadalen region, Norway

Authors

  • Eigil Reimers,

    1. Norwegian College of Veterinary Science, Department of Morphology, Genetics and Aquatic Biology, P.O. Box 8146, Dep 0033 Oslo, Norway
    2. Department of Biology, University of Oslo, P.O. Box 1066 Blindern, N-0316 Oslo, Norway
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  • Nina Holmengen,

    1. Department of Biology, University of Oslo, P.O. Box 1066 Blindern, N-0316 Oslo, Norway
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  • Atle Mysterud

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Biology, University of Oslo, P.O. Box 1066 Blindern, N-0316 Oslo, Norway
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* All correspondence to: Dr A. Mysterud E-mail: atle.mysterud@bio.uio.no

Abstract

Variation in life history is a central key to understanding population dynamics, and density dependence and climate are important factors in shaping life-history variation in ungulates. Early growth is often sensitive to adverse conditions and this may in turn affect juvenile survival and age at first reproduction. We report variation in body weight of 5079 reindeer Rangifer tarandus from North Ottadalen, a very productive reindeer area in Norway, sampled over 14 years in the period 1967–1989. The North Ottadalen reindeer herd was established in 1964 from a winter herd of some 500 semi-domestic reindeer, and allowed to grow to a peak of over 3300 reindeer in 1974, after which increased harvest decreased the population size. The proportion of lactating yearling females varied between 0% and 50%. Lactating females had lower autumn body weights than non-lactating females. A decline in body weight with age, i.e. senescence, was evident in both males and females from around 7 to 9 years of age. Body weights of all age and sex groups as well as the proportion of yearling females lactating decreased over time, and more so in younger than older males, although the population size declined markedly after the population peak in 1974. We found no effect of the North Atlantic Oscillation or local weather on body weight. The possible causes of the marked decline in performance with time in the North Ottadalen reindeer herd are discussed, and it is suggested that this may be related to the transition from being managed as semi-domestic to wild (i.e. hunted).

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