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Activity pattern of arctic reindeer in a predator-free environment: no need to keep a daily rhythm

Abstract

Arctic Cervids face considerable challenges in sustaining life in a harsh and highly seasonal environment, and when to forage is a key component of the survival strategy. We predict that a cervid maximizes net intake of energy to change the duration of feeding-ruminating cycles depending on season, and pays no attention to light or other activity-entraining cues. Still, in periods of bad weather it may pay energetically to reduce exposure and heat loss. We investigated environmental impact on the seasonal and daily activity pattern of a food-limited, predator-free arctic deer, the Svalbard reindeer. We found that the reindeer indeed had season-dependent feeding-rumination intervals, with no distinct peaks in activity at sunrise and sunset, as would be expected if animals maximize energy intake rates in predator-free environments. However, they temporarily reduced activity when exposed to low temperature and increased precipitation during winter, possibly to conserve energy. We provide insight into the behavioural strategy of Svalbard reindeer which enables them to cope with such an extreme environment.

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Acknowledgments

The field work and data acquisition were supported by the reindeer research projects at the Norwegian Polar Institute. We are grateful to the Research Council of Norway for support to LEL, CB and AM (YFF project) and to Clement Calenge for statistical advice. Finally, we thank Jean-Michel Gaillard, Norman Owen-Smith and two anonymous referees for valuable comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Atle Mysterud.

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We dedicate this paper to Nils Are Øritsland (born 1939) who died 24th of November 2006 of cancer. Norway lost a real “old-timer” with an extraordinary experience from the Arctic. We have lost a good colleague.

Communicated by Jean-Michel-Gaillard.

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Loe, L.E., Bonenfant, C., Mysterud, A. et al. Activity pattern of arctic reindeer in a predator-free environment: no need to keep a daily rhythm. Oecologia 152, 617–624 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-007-0681-7

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-007-0681-7

Keywords

  • Activity Pattern
  • Digestion Time
  • Electronic Appendix
  • Daily Activity Pattern
  • Energy Intake Rate