Life history consequences of environmental variation along ecological gradients in northern ungulates
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- Institutt for biologi 
Temporal and spatial variation in the environment can influence the performance of individuals in wild ungulate populations. Of particular importance is an understanding of the mechanisms that shape variation in individual body mass, because several important life history traits are directly related to body mass. Body mass is one of the first traits that is influenced by environmental variation, and often the effect operates through variation in the components of the foraging niche of ungulates. In this thesis, I aim to demonstrate how measurements of environmental variation relate to variation in the foraging niche of ungulates. Furthermore, I aim to explore how variation in ungulate life history traits relates to these variables, and finally, how the management of ungulates could benefit from the incorporation of knowledge about the effects of environmental variation on population dynamics. I use weather observations, large-scale climate indices, and indices of environmental phenology based on satellite-derived vegetation indices (NDVI) to analyse the effect of environmental variation on plants and body mass in moose (Alces alces) and roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) populations. The environmental variables that explained most of the variation in plant performance, measured as radial growth in common juniper (Juniper communis) also explained variation in ungulate body mass. These variables were related to conditions in spring and early summer. Plant growth was low in cold summers, and in spring where the green-up curve as measured by change in photosynthetic activity during spring was moderate. Such growing conditions are recognised to increase the quality of the plants as forage for ungulates. Consequently, moose body mass in autumn showed the opposite pattern than juniper to environmental conditions, indicating that quality of plants, rather than the quantity, is an important component in temperate ungulate foraging niche. Further, regional variation in moose body mass was associated with environmental variables related to forage quality. Roe deer body mass was associated with availability of forage during winter, and not with factors related to summer conditions. Factors related to forage quantity neither influenced temporal nor spatial variation in body mass in the two species. Accordingly, it appears that both weather observations and satellite-derived vegetation indices are able to effectively predict variation in plant performance related to variation in foraging conditions for ungulates. The variation in forage quality in space and time created variation in body mass between populations and between cohorts within a population. Further, the variation in body mass between moose population, caused by variation in the foraging conditions, predicted how the populations differentially respond to the effects of environmental stochastisity. In populations with a high mean body mass, or a low density relative to plant biomass production, available resources buffered environmental stochastisity, and were less influenced by environmental variation than populations with relatively fewer resources available. If wildlife managers fail to incorporate the effects of environmental variation on population performance, e.g. on the recruitment rate, the population may show unexpected and large fluctuations in size. Therefore, managers should attempt to incorporate knowledge of recent environmental conditions on the population when setting harvesting quotas. In face of the large variation in environmental conditions experienced by the ungulate populations in Norway, and the fact that responses to environmental variation varies between populations, management should be regionally adapted, and aim to incorporate variation in vital rates caused by environmental conditions. This is likely to create more stable and predictable populations. In face of the predicted climate and landscape changes in Norwegian forests, environmental variables, e.g. from satellite-derived vegetation indices, have the potential to be a powerful tool for a sustainable management of ungulate populations. Consequently, such information should be incorporated into the management of ungulates in order to a) obtain a management of ungulate populations that is adapted to regional mechanisms of environmental variation, and b) acquire a management that is sustainable in face of future change in climate and landscape that may vary regionally. This calls for a regional differentiation in management strategies.
Has partsHenriksen, S; Herfindal, I; Aanes, R; Høgda, K-A; Sæther, B-E; Tveraa, T; Bråthen, KA; Ims, RA. The relationship between satellite based vegetation indices, climate and growth of juniper in a northern ecosystem. .
Herfindal, I; Lund, E; Andersen, R; Solberg, EJ; Høgda, K-A. Environmental conditions, body mass and vital rates in a harvested roe deer population. .