Both the Norwegian Polar Institute and The Arctic University of Norway at the University of Tromsø have concluded the reindeer fared surprisingly well during the past winter.
The population declined slightly since last year, but the figure is far above average and confirms reindeer herds in Adventdalen are generally continuing to grow. Simplicity "The reindeer count remains high. This is the second consecutive year in which it is far above what we had thought," said Nicholas Tyler, a reindeer research who has participated in counts since 1979. The UiT researcher said he believes climate change has improved feeding conditions for the herds in Adventdalen. Furthermore, wet winter weather freed up hillsides so reindeer could graze on them.
"We are now operating at a level that for the first 17 years would have been unimaginable," Tyler said. "Then the average was 600. Now the average is well over 1,000."
Only about half of the does had calves this year, he said.
The results from Norwegian Polar Institute's census confirms the trend: the reindeer population in Adventdalen is increasing and has stabilized at a higher level than previously.
"The results of the census show that there are about 1,300 individuals, a slight decrease from last year, but that is a very good survival rate among adult animals," said Åshild Ønvik Pedersen, a researcher leading this year's count.
"There are fewer calves than last year and this year slightly less than half of the does had calves," she said. "Last year there was nearly one calf per doe."
"That is common after a good year. When you have a lot of animals and competition for grazing, then the figures will go down a little."
Higher mortality rates
Mortality rates have been low for the past three years, but Tyler said he believes they will increase in the future.
"The population is top-heavy with old animals," he said. "Therefore, there will probably be a blow next year."
Why is monitoring Svalbard's reindeer important?
"Climate change affects all organisms on the planet," Tyler said. "But could you name other populations of large ruminant animals anywhere that are not affected by predators or hunting or competition from livestock? Svalbard reindeer are among the few, few populations in the world where there are few external factors that disrupt the picture. Svalbard reindeer have a great intrinsic value in purely theoretical biology."