The planned research focuses on understanding the impacts of a changing climate on the spatial dynamics of Svalbard reindeer, a key species in Svalbard’s tundra ecosystem. While harvesting has historically been the primary stressor for Svalbard reindeer populations, climate change will likely be the primary driver of population dynamics in the future. To distinguish the complex effects of climate change from the large inter-annual variation characteristic for the Arctic, long-term monitoring data is essential.
This project is part of a UNIS-led long-term monitoring project, Bjørndalen Integrated Gradients (BIG, RiS ID 11225). Svalbard reindeer have been counted in Bjørndalen annually since 1979, complementing reindeer monitoring efforts in other areas on Svalbard. My field work will cover the counts between February and May 2023, ensuring the continuation of the long-term monitoring time series. Together with available data from the previous years, the recorded 2023 data will be critical to understand the spatio-temporal habitat use and foraging behaviour of Svalbard reindeer, the central topic of my thesis. I expect that the winter spatial distribution of reindeer in Bjørndalen is a function of the interaction between forage availability and forage accessibility (i.e., snow-ice conditions).
Reindeer will be counted once a week (weather permitting on Mondays), and each individual’s or group’s location will be noted on a map. Once per month, the reindeer count survey will be complemented with a snow survey, during which snow-ice conditions will be measured along transects covering a coast-inland and elevational gradient. In both feeding craters and snow transect pits, snow depth, snow hardness, ice layers within the snowpack as well as presence/thickness of ground ice will be measured.