An examination of a compensatory relationship between food limitation and predation in semi-domestic reindeer
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A central issue in ecology is to what extent food limitation and predation affect animal populations. We studied how survival and reproductive success was related to the female's size in a population of semi-domesticated reindeer during 2 years where there was a large difference in snowfall during winter. The females were kept within a predator-free enclosure for about 5 weeks during the calving period and thereafter released to their natural summer pastures. Small females were more likely to fail to reproduce and they produced smaller calves than large females. Additionally, small females were more likely to loose their calves due to starvation within the predator-free enclosure and to predators outside the enclosure. Food limitation during the harsh winter appeared to be the major cause of deaths. However, food limitation interacted with predation and led to high calf losses when the females experienced low food availability during the harsh winter. In contrast, predators killed no calves after the mild winter. Apparently, the interaction between predation and food limitation is due to small females favouring their own growth and survival over calf production in summers following harsh winters with food shortage. Our results indicate that a compensatory relationship exists between mortality due food limitation and predation. Thus, the impact of calf predation on reindeer demography and population dynamics may be limited.