Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) avoidance of a highway as revealed by lichen measurements

Research paper by Bjørn Dahle, Eigil Reimers, Jonathan E. Colman

Indexed on: 12 May '07Published on: 12 May '07Published in: European Journal of Wildlife Research


Reindeer and caribou Rangifer tarandus are reported to avoid human infrastructure such as roads, high-voltage power lines, pipelines, and tourist resorts. Lichens are important forage for reindeer during winter, and their relatively slow growth rates make them vulnerable to overgrazing. Height and volume of lichens are often used as an indicator of grazing pressure by reindeer and, thus, as an indirect measure of Rangifer avoidance of human infrastructure. We sampled lichen height in Cetraria nivalis-dominated communities along 4 and 3 parallel transects located on two parallel mountain ridges in Hardangervidda, south central Norway. The lichen measurements were analyzed in relation to altitude and the distance from four tourist cabins in the area and a highway (Rv7) running perpendicular to the 7 transects. The mountain ridge with 4 transects is part of a much used migratory corridor for wild reindeer R. tarandus tarandus. Along the nonmigratory ridge, lichen height decreased 35% over an 8-km distance from Rv7 and a tourist cabin, indicating reindeer aversion toward Rv7 and/or a tourist cabin. No similar relationship was found for the migration ridge in relation to distance from Rv7 or the tourist cabins. Our results suggest that avoidance of human infrastructure by wild reindeer might be limited where reindeer use of winter pastures is influenced by herd traditions and/or motivation to follow established migration corridors. This has important implications for addressing the use of similar pasture measurements when testing for Rangifer aversion toward human disturbances.