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Siberian scientists uncover shifts in reindeer migration due to climate change

During the course of a grant project, researchers from the Siberian Federal University (SFU) studied the migration patterns of wild reindeer and unveiled deviations among deer herds from their traditional routes, which can be attributed to climate change. According to the study’s results, most of the time, deer generally spend in the Evenkiya forests but not in the tundra.
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«Based on classical concepts, wild reindeer mainly inhabit the extreme north and migrate south when frost approaches. SFU’s last satellite observations debunk this hypothesis. Deer spend more than nine months not in the tundra but rather in the Evenkiya forests. The deer migrate north only because of fawning and only for a relatively short period,» said Alexander Savchenko, an SFU professor.

Research into the population of wild reindeer has been going on as a part of grant project dubbed «Evenkiya deer» that had kicked off in 2014.

Over a period of three years, SFU research assistants had been keeping tabs on the migration of these animals using GPS wildlife tracking neck chains. During the course of the experiment’s first stage, 10 animals from the eastern herd in the region of the northernmost part of Evenkiya, in the locality Essey, were tagged. Whereas in the second stage, seven more deer belonging to the western herd were marked. During the length of the experiment, the scientists discovered that a notable deviation from conventional migration routes take place, which presumably might be brought on by changing climate conditions.

One more finding is a split in the Taymyr-Evenkiya population of reindeer into two herds — the eastern and the western groups taking absolutely different routes and migration characteristics. Even in the first half of September, deer from the eastern herd reached the southern terminal point of hibernation, and now are slowly moving back up to the north. In contrast, the western group has not even crossed the Kheta River and remains on its left bank.

Based on the analysis of the results from the GPS navigation tracking, survey information, and data from the most recent aerial surveillance, the zoologists presume that the last herd will migrate from Evenkiya to West Taimyr via the Putorana Plateau by overcoming mountain terrain of 1,500 meters above sea level. The hibernation site of these eastern herds of deer is still unclear. The researchers continue the real-time monitoring of groups marked with neck chains last spring using a satellite transmitter for tracking them. The analysis of the information and results of the project will be summarized in the next year.

The population of wild reindeer in the northern part of Krasnoyarsk Region is the largest east of the Urals. Now, the deer population is estimated to be about 400,000−500,000 animals. However, the researchers note the drop in the deer population. In 2000, their numbers hovered at around one million.

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