Summary of our scientific Report to Nordforsk

Report summary

ReiGN’s overall aim is to contribute to a viable Fennoscandian reindeer pastoralism by contributing to a better understanding of how climate change and globalization affect this complex social-ecological system (SES). Our comparative and synthetic approach alongside involvement of herders, has enabled us to: identify important drivers and analyze their effects on the herders’ livelihood and form of life within a Fennoscandian context.

We have shed light on the emergence and spread of reindeer pastoralism in Fennoscandia ca. 400 – 500 years ago. The historical and cultural setting are reflected  the genetic structure of domestic reindeer  in Fennoscandia. Top down governance and incentives and regulations by the different states in the 1960s transformed reindeer pastoralism into a meat production sector. In the last decades, a gradual shift in favor of Sámi herders’ influence and rights has taken place. However, a goal mismatch between state governance on the one hand and reindeer herders on the other is clearly seen across all three countries.Our research shows that new and transparent governing models, fitted to reindeer herding-based understanding and functionality of the grazing land, are overdue.

In particluar, we have identified how forestry and other land use formscontribute to the reduction and deterioration of pastures, especially the winter pastures. The observed trend of shrinking pastures in all three countries is caused by cumulative impacts in space and time. This is fueled by the surge for renewable energy and essential minarels to facilitate the ‘green transition’ Incombination with climate change, this reduction in available pastures  will intensify the regional and local pressure on the remaining land. Climate change has thus a multiplier effect on the herders’ rights to land and resources and their form of life.

The herders need to cope with and adapt to seasonal weather conditions and indirect impacts of climate change.. Most notably, the herders point out that the increased frequency of rain on snow events severely deteriorates winter grazing conditions. This has been the driving forces behind the increase in supplementary feeding and challenges the herders’ visions for sustainable herding. In sum, we identified several pathways towards tipping point”: a  land-use, a climate change, and a governance-driven pathway, and the interpendence between them.

We have identified selection and phenotypic plasticity of reindeer in response to climate. Indeed, we found no evidence for the much discussed mismatch between parturition time and the earlier emergence of spring. Instead, we found a directional and stabilizing selection towards a combination of earlier birth date and heavier birth mass.This indicates a process of adaptive evolution and advances the question if reindeer are able to adapt fast enough to maintain an optimal phenotype as the environment changes. Besides the processes of natural selection, we have contributed to the mapping of the reindeer genome and described potential avenues and informations necessary for establishing functional breeding programs.

Varying herding conditions within and between Fennoscandia countries require different herd structures, slaughtering strategies, reindeer densities, feeding strategies and pasture use. In our bio-economic research, we show how economic incentives may affect the herders’ strategies in Finland, Sweden and Norway differently. Further expansion of the model including a multifunctional forestry model indicates that continuous cover forestry, which better preserves winter pastures, yielded optimal solutions rather than clear felling, also in terms of carbon storage . Adapting to predation pressure includes increasing the size of the reindeer winter population and changing the slaughtering age of males towards young adults, but implies high costs.

We have identified the need for revitalization of reindeer herders’ customary institutions and their traditional knowledge in resource management and land use planning to increase the resilience of the system. For example, cooperation between herders in different herding groups (siidas) suggests that perceived norms allow network structures to emerge and be maintained. Reindeer herd size is important to buffer against adverse conditions as well as unforeseen events. However, comparative studies have shown regional differences in risk management strategies, probably as a result of diferent external and internal resource competition.

The unforeseen outbreak of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in wild reindeer populations in southern Norway was met with great concerns. Our finding of increased risk in reindeer carrying certain alleles to develop CWD has been applied in breeding experiments for reduced CWD susceptibility.

Our work has resulted not only in new scientific knowledge about main challenges faced by reindeer pastoralism – it also helped us to increase collaboration with the reindeer herding communities and to generate best knowledge. Indeed, the integration of reindeer herder’s knowledge in cumulative impacts assessments is essential to understand ecosystem vulnerability. This has contributed to a policy-relevant knowledge-base of adaptation strategies in reindeer pastoralism.


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