Reindeer key to preserving vegetation in mountain regions says Swedish study

A reindeer is seen on December 20, 2010 near the village of Vuollerim, Lapland province, west of the coastal city of Luleaa. Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand, AFP.Reindeer pastures are a must for preserving vegetation in mountainous regions above the tree line, say researchers at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

A new research project is now underway to determine how reindeer can help keep the tree line from advancing to higher elevations .

“We don’t have many other alternatives for preserving more wildlife species than through a certain amount of control of reindeer pastures,” says professor Urban Emanuelsson.

“This is an observation I’ve made and it has become increasingly obvious in recent years. Without the reindeer pastures, mountainous regions above the tree line would be much poorer with respect to wildlife.”

Research findings show that the number of reindeer affects the tree line. If there are many reindeer in an area, the tree line recedes. If the number of reindeer is low, the tree line advances to higher elevations.

Emanuelsson says that a new research project will begin at two locations in the Far North of Sweden – one in Rávttasvuopmi in the Municipality of Kiruna and the other southwest of the Padjelanta massif. The researchers will look at various models to determine the alternatives for stopping vegetation from advancing above the tree line by using reindeer pastures.

“I’ve been looking at models for how reindeer grazing could be intensified during certain periods at certain locations, and perhaps reduced during other periods,” Emanuelsson says.

“The reindeer meadows will be very important in efforts to stop the tree line from advancing.

“Reindeer herders and owners will be play a key role in preserving biological diversity in the mountains in the years to come.”

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