University of Oulu

Reindeer grazing and soil nutrient cycling in boreal and tundra ecosystems

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Author: Stark, Sari1
Organizations: 1University of Oulu, Faculty of Science, Department of Biology
Format: ebook
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.6 MB)
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Language: English
Published: 2002
Publish Date: 2002-05-18
Thesis type: Doctoral Dissertation
Defence Note: Academic Dissertation to be presented with the assent of the Faculty of Science, University of Oulu, for public discussion in Kuusamonsali (Auditorium YB210), Linnanmaa, on May 18th, 2002, at 12 noon.
Reviewer: Professor Sven Jonasson
Docent Heikki Setälä


In northernmost Fennoscandia, grazing by reindeer (Rangifer tarandus L.) has a substantial impact on the vegetation of boreal forests and arctic-alpine tundra heaths, which are reflected in below-ground processes, such as nutrient mineralization and soil organic matter decomposition. In the present thesis, the effects of reindeer grazing on soil nutrient cycling were studied by comparing grazed situation with an ungrazed control area in ten boreal forests and six arctic-alpine tundra heaths.

In boreal forests, reindeer grazing reduced microbial respiration in both the oligotrophic and mesotrophic study areas, indicating a deficiency of labile substrates for the soil microbes due to reindeer grazing. Simultaneously, there was heterogeneity in the impact on nitrogen mineralization rates as at some sites, mineralization was enhanced by grazing. The fertilization effect of urine and faeces can therefore be strong enough a factor to outweigh a reduction in quality of soil organic matter. In the oligotrophic forests, low soil moisture content in the grazed areas could sometimes limit the mineralization rates even when the potential for mineralization was enhanced by grazing.

In the tundra ecosystems, there was spatial variation in the impact of grazing on microbial respiration and nitrogen mineralization. Low grazing intensity occurring outside the growing season had a retarding impact on nutrient cycling in both unfertilized, nutrient-poor and fertilized, nutrient-rich conditions. In contrast, a relatively high grazing intensity enhanced the mineralization rates in two nutrient-poor and two nutrient-rich tundra heaths. When three different grazing intensities were compared in one oceanic, nutrient-rich and one continental, nutrient-poor tundra heath, the strongest positive effect of grazing on soil nutrient cycling occurred in the heavily grazed areas. The data do not support the assumption that soil nutrient availability regulates whether herbivores enhance or retard nutrient cycling in the soil. Instead, the net effect of grazing is determined by the balance between the underlying mechanisms that may work at opposite directions. The most important of these mechanisms are the grazer-mediated impact on the decomposability of the dominant vegetation and fertilization by urine and faeces.

The duration, intensity and seasonal timing of the grazing seem to be important factors that regulate whether reindeer grazing enhances or retards soil nutrient cycling in each specific area. Due to the high spatial and temporal variation in the effects of grazing observed in this study, it is not possible to generalize the overall impact of grazing. Further study is required in order to determine the exact conditions under which grazing enhances or it retards soil nutrient cycling.

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Series: Acta Universitatis Ouluensis. A, Scientiae rerum naturalium
ISSN-E: 1796-220X
ISBN: 951-42-6692-7
ISBN Print: 951-42-6691-9
Issue: 382
Copyright information: © University of Oulu, 2002. This publication is copyrighted. You may download, display and print it for your own personal use. Commercial use is prohibited.