Reindeer, Rangifer tarandus, live in subarctic and alpine environments with spatially and temporally heterogeneous resource distribution. In this study, we used a hierarchical approach to test whether reindeer responded to spatial heterogeneity during the plant growing season (divided into three distinct periods) in a mountainous subarctic environment in northern Sweden. A reindeer herd in northern Sweden was surveyed using radio-telemetry (8 female reindeer) and the selection of feeding habitats by observing individuals/groups (135 observations) using laser range-finding binoculars. Reindeer selected feeding areas (evaluated at 5-km grid size), as well as feeding habitats (evaluated at 0.5- and 1-km grid size) during spring, in response to high terrain ruggedness and habitat heterogeneity. Reindeer switched during summer to select against terrain ruggedness and habitat heterogeneity at the level of feeding habitats, while preferring southward facing habitats. During autumn, a broader spectrum of feeding habitats was used. We conclude that reindeer seem to adopt a hierarchical strategy in agreement with general foraging theory, and are capable of responding to seasonal changes in resource distribution occurring across spatial scales. Furthermore, our results support the idea that spatial heterogeneity is an important factor to large-sized herbivores at high and intermediate levels of habitat selection. Conservation of large continuous and undeveloped landscapes is an important management goal, as they provide a wide range of habitats necessary for animals such as reindeer that use large territories.
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Vol. 38 • No. 3