Differential effects of reindeer on high Arctic lichens


Corresponding author; Fax +411330823303; E-mail rvdw@ceh.ac.uk


Abstract. We studied the effects of Svalbard reindeer on the abundance of lichens in Spitsbergen. A survey was carried out in 14 areas with contrasting reindeer densities. Separate cover estimates for crustose, fructose and foliose lichens were taken in each area, and related to the density of reindeer pellet groups, a measure of reindeer density. Dominant macro lichen families were identified in 10 areas, and a full record of macrolichen species was taken in four additional areas. Variation in reindeer density is partially due to past overhunting, and subsequent incomplete recovery, releasing some areas from reindeer grazing for 100–200 yr.

The cover of fruticose lichens was negatively related to reindeer pellet group density, indicating suppression by Svalbard reindeer. This makes their impact comparable to other members of the Rangifer genus around the northern hemisphere. The generally recorded low abundance of lichens in the diet of Svalbard reindeer compared to other Rangifer species, therefore, was interpreted as the depletion of fruticose lichens in Spitsbergen, and a subsequent switch to alternative foods.

Of all fruticose lichens, Stereocaulon spp. appeared least sensitive to grazing. Crustose and foliose lichen cover was independent of reindeer pellet group density. The cover of crustose lichens was significantly related to latitude, with greater cover in more northern areas. Foliose lichens were more abundant in places where moss cover was high. We conclude that the impact of Svalbard reindeer on lichens is dependent on growth form, with fruticose lichens suffering from grazing, whereas foliose lichens might indirectly benefit from higher densities of reindeer or, like crustose lichens, be controlled by other factors.