Reindeer counteract the effects of climate warming

Feb 13, 2014
Reindeer grazing.

One of the consequences of a warmer climate can be that lowland and southern plants migrate higher up in the mountains. Ecologist Elina Kaarlejärvi shows in her thesis that reindeer, voles and hare can prevent these invasions. The public defense will take place at Umeå University, 21st of February.

Elina Kaarljeärvi concludes that climate warming does not always automatically lead to increased plant biomass, invasions of new species and shrubification in tundra, opposite to previous predictions.

"Typical lowland , which I planted out to the open tundra, for example Red campion and Fireweed, were eaten by . Plants in open tundra are typically small, and therefore taller and more nutritious lowland plants become easily detected and eaten," says Elina Kaarljeärvi.

Earlier studies have reported that warming climate increases growth of shrubs in tundra. Shrubs grow faster, become taller and take more space. Can herbivores affect or regulate this somehow?

"his shrubification together with new species migration to open tundra would increase competition among plant species and thus threaten the existence of low-stature tundra plants," says Elina Kaarljeävrvi. "My results from a field experiment in Abisko, in northern Sweden, indicate that reindeer grazing may protect the original tundra vegetation by keeping the vegetation low and preventing new species' invasions to the tundra."

Another experiment was carried out in Kilpisjärvi, Finland, where Elina Kaarljeärvi used mini greenhouses and fences against herbivores to study interaction of climate warming and grazing. Other two sub-studies took place in Dovrefjell and Finnmarksvidda in Norway.

Elina Kaarljeärvi's results highlight that herbivores, especially reindeer, are key and play an important role in the mountains.

"Changes in mountain vegetation depend on local reindeer numbers," explains Elina Kaarljeävri- "Moderate grazing prevents upward shifts and reduces the growth of vegetation. Reindeer numbers vary significantly between different areas and different years. So we can expect more rapid changes due to in vegetation in the areas that are not grazed."

Elina Kaarlejärvi grew up in Finnish Lapland and studied biology at the University of Turku, Finland.

Explore further: Cities, regions, demand bigger climate say

Related Stories

Climate change generates more Arctic tundra vegetation

Apr 11, 2012

Researchers in Finland have discovered that climate change has impacted various regions of the Arctic tundra by helping increase the levels of vegetation. Their data suggest that this rise could potentially ...

Caribou the missing piece of arctic warming puzzle

May 01, 2013

In the first study of its type in Canada, new research has shown caribou have a role to play in climate warming in the arctic. Despite declining herd numbers, caribou grazing is controlling plant growth in ...

Climate change will endanger caribou habitat, study says

Dec 15, 2013

Reindeer, from Northern Europe or Asia, are often thought of as a domesticated animal, one that may pull Santa's sled. Caribou, similar in appearance but living in the wilderness of North America, are thought of as conducting ...

Warming turns tundra to forest

Jun 04, 2012

(Phys.org) -- In just a few decades shrubs in the Arctic tundra have turned into trees as a result of the warming Arctic climate, creating patches of forest which, if replicated across the tundra, would significantly ...

Thriving tundra bushes add fuel to Northern thaw

Jul 04, 2013

(Phys.org) —Carbon-gobbling plants are normally allies in the fight to slow climate change, but in the frozen north, the effects of thriving vegetation may actually push temperatures higher. In a series ...

Recommended for you

As nations dither, cities pick up climate slack

5 hours ago

Their national governments hamstrung by domestic politics, stretched budgets and diplomatic inertia, many cities and provinces have taken a leading role—driven by necessity—in efforts to arrest galloping ...

Should we all escape to the country during a heatwave?

10 hours ago

A University of Birmingham research project has highlighted the potential health impacts of heatwaves in urbanised areas. By modelling the 2003 heatwave the researchers were able to identify areas where city centres were ...

NASA maps beach tar from California oil pipeline spill

11 hours ago

When an on-land pipeline ruptured north of Santa Barbara, California, on May 19—spilling 105,000 barrels of crude oil onto Refugio State Beach and about 21,000 gallons of oil into the Pacific Ocean in the ...

Not all plastics equal

11 hours ago

Ever buy a fish at a pet store that died within days of being put in an aquarium at home?

Carbon capture and storage safety investigated

11 hours ago

A significant step has been made for potential Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) deployment, with the publication of the results from the world's first experiment into the realistic simulation of potential ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.