Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences - Biogeography

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Mapping threats to reindeer habitat in Russia

Migratory species often have large ranges, but some parts of their range are particularly critical. For Reindeer herds, calving grounds are crucial habitat, yet for many Russian reindeer herds calving grounds are neither well known nor protected. A new paper just published in Diversity and Distributions mapped, for the first time, the distribution of tundra reindeer calving ground habitat across Russia, and how oil and gas development as well as climate change may affect these habitats in the future.

 

 

Potential impacts of oil and gas development and climate change on migratory reindeer calving grounds across the Russian Arctic

 

Tobias Kuemmerle | Leonid Baskin | Pedro J. Leitão

Alexander V. Prishchepov | Kirsten Thonicke | Volker C. Radeloff e

 

Abstract

Aim: Drivers of biodiversity loss are increasingly broad in scale, requiring conservation planning to move towards range-wide assessments. This is especially challenging for migratory species, such as reindeer or caribou (Rangifer tarandus), which use only a small portion of their range at a given point in time, and for which some parts of their range, such as calving grounds, may be much more important than others. Our aim was to identify potential calving ground habitat of wild tundra reindeer populations throughout Russia, where scarce knowledge about seasonal reindeer habitat is an obstacle for conservation planning, and to assess possible impacts from oil and gas development and climate change.

Location: Northern Eurasia

Method: We used occurrence data from known reindeer calving grounds using species distribution models to first assess calving grounds characteristics and second predict their distribution across the Russian Arctic. We then compared our calving ground map with maps of oil and gas development, and a range of climate change indicators.

Results: We found areas throughout the Russian Arctic that are suitable for calving, including for some wild reindeer populations where calving ground locations are unknown. Variables relating to resource availability in spring and predator avoidance were the strongest predictors in our model. Oil and gas development affects calving grounds especially in the Barents Sea region and in southwestern Siberia, whereas climate change affects calving grounds on Taymyr, Chukotka, and Kamchatka.

Main conclusions: We conducted the first assessment of calving grounds of Russia’s wild reindeer populations, highlighting the spatial heterogeneity of the threats that they may face. Given the potentially strong impact of oil and gas development and climate change, conservation planning should aim for designing resilient conservation networks, that would allow Arctic biodiversity to freely move in time and space and thus to adapt to changing environments.

 

Download the paper here