Potential impacts of oil and gas development and climate change on migratory reindeer calving grounds across the Russian Arctic
Drivers of biodiversity loss are increasingly broad in scale, requiring conservation planning to move towards range-wide assessments. This is especially challenging for migratory species, such as reindeer or caribou (Rangifer tarandus), which use only a small portion of their range at a given point in time, and for which some parts of their range, such as calving grounds, may be much more important than others. Our aim was to identify potential calving ground habitat of wild tundra reindeer populations throughout Russia, where scarce knowledge about seasonal reindeer habitat is an obstacle for conservation planning, and to assess possible impacts from oil and gas development and climate change.
We used occurrence data from known reindeer calving grounds using species distribution models to first assess calving grounds characteristics and second predict their distribution across the Russian Arctic. We then compared our calving ground map with maps of oil and gas development, and a range of climate change indicators.
We found areas throughout the Russian Arctic that are suitable for calving, including for some wild reindeer populations where calving ground locations are unknown. Variables relating to resource availability in spring and predator avoidance were the strongest predictors in our model. Oil and gas development affects calving grounds especially in the Barents Sea region and in south-western Siberia, whereas climate change affects calving grounds on Taymyr, Chukotka, and Kamchatka.
We conducted the first assessment of calving grounds of Russia's wild reindeer populations, highlighting the spatial heterogeneity of the threats that they may face. Given the potentially strong impact of oil and gas development and climate change, conservation planning should aim for designing resilient conservation networks that would allow Arctic biodiversity to freely move in time and space and thus to adapt to changing environments.