The survival of reindeer during winter, their period of greatest food stress, depends largely on the abundance and accessibility of forage in their pastures. In Northern Sweden, realized availability of forage is notably affected by snow conditions and the impacts of forestry. While these factors have been examined in isolation, their combined effect has, to the best of our knowledge to date, not been researched. In this study, vegetation surveys and analysis of snow conditions were undertaken in forest stands at various stages of recovery from clear-cutting. The variation in abundance and growth of understory species edible by reindeer, such as lichen, was noted as forests matured. The barrier effect of ice lenses in the snow was also measured in these stands. Lichen biomass was significantly affected by a combination of stand maturity, understory vegetation height, and lichen height. Soil disturbance from the processes of felling and competition in the vegetation communities recovering from this disturbance were identified as key drivers of change in lichen biomass. Overall, clear-cut forests had some of the greatest prevalence of ice lenses in the snow column, and forage availability at these sites was up to 61% less than in mature stands over 58 years in age. It is suggested that alternative silviculture methods are investigated for use in this reindeer herding region, as frequent clear-cutting and consequent reduction in the average forest stand age and maturity class may be detrimental to reindeer grazing, reducing both abundance of forage, and access to it during winter.
Kater, I., & Baxter, R. (2022). Abundance and accessibility of forage for reindeer in forests of Northern Sweden: Impacts of landscape and winter climate regime. Ecology and Evolution, 12(4), Article e8820. https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.8820