Reindeer fidelity to high quality winter pastures outcompete power line barrier effects
We investigated barrier effects of a 66 kV power line established in 1966 before and after the line was upgraded to 132 kV in 2004 over a period of 44 years (1974-2017) in the North Ottadalen wild reindeer area (3245 km2) of which 1038 km2 are in use as winter pastures. The power line transects a peninsula (135 km2) with high quality winter pastures in the southeast periphery. The reindeer population originated from a nucleus herd of 402 animals of domestic origin released in the area in 1964-1965 and 100 resident wild animals. Yearly winter survey started in 1974 and reindeer were first surveyed south of the 66 kV power line in 1982. Comparing the number of animals recorded in the peninsula vs. the number of individuals expected relative to available grazing area during the three periods (1974-2004, 1982-2004 and 2005-2017), the number of animals recorded in the peninsula was 3.6–4.9 times higher than expected. Since the upgrade of the power line, a substantial part of the reindeer population grazed in the peninsula every year. We therefore conclude that there was no long-term barrier effect from the original power line and no barrier effects at all from the upgrade. However, during the first 5 surveys of this study, there were no animals in the peninsula. Therefore, even if there are several possible reasons for this, we cannot exclude the possibility of short-term barrier effects resulting from the construction of the original power line. Our results support recent studies that report no effects from existing power lines and contrast some previous findings that have reported strong long-term barrier and avoidance effects of such infrastructure for Rangifer migration and grazing behaviour.
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