Posted in | News | Climate Change | Ecology

Grazing Lands are Exposed to Cumulative Pressures

Reindeer herding has got a long history in northern Norway, Sweden, and Finland. It has altered the Fennoscandian mountain landscape and is also seen as a way to reduce the effects of climate change on vegetation. According to a newly published study in Scientific Reports, the majority of this grazing land is vulnerable to cumulative stresses posed by the expansion of human activities towards the north.

Male reindeer walking on a national road in Jämtland, Sweden. Image Credit: Marianne Stoessel/Stockholm University.

The grazing land in northern Fennoscandia is highly disturbed by cumulative land-use pressures. Northern development includes outdoor tourism, intensive forestry, road and rail traffic, but also mining, and wind farms. The study mapped and evaluated the entire magnitude of these cumulative pressures, as well as the existence of predators and climate change.

Prior studies have primarily concentrated on regional scales; however, the current study used an integrated large-scale GIS analysis across three countries: Norway, Sweden, and Finland. The findings indicate that around 60% of the region is susceptible to numerous pressures and that 85% is vulnerable to at least one pressure.

This significantly reduces both the size and quality of the summer grazing area. According to the research, barely 4% of the area remains undisturbed.

“The Resilience of Northern Pastoralism is Under Threat”

In northern Fennoscandia, we are lucky to still have one the oldest herding systems in Europe, where reindeer can roam freely over 40% of Norway, Sweden, and Finland. Or at least, they used to. With the rising human presence taking place on multiple fronts, the resilience of northern pastoralism is under threat.

Marianne Stoessel, Study First Author and PhD Student, Stockholm University

The existence of several pressures in this area is not unusual. These issues are well known to reindeer herders, policymakers, and the scientific community investigating reindeer ecology.

What is new is the fact that we finally managed to get an overview of these pressures over the whole area. This was not easy, as the different land-uses act at different scales and can be very dynamic, so can be the predators, and the effects of climate change on grazing.

Marianne Stoessel, Study First Author and PhD Student, Stockholm University

Grazing a Key Process for Maintaining Plant Biodiversity

Professor Regina Lindborg, the study’s co-author and the coordinator of the research project, adds: “Grazing is a key process for maintaining plant biodiversity, even in the mountains. So it was important for us to study the extent of these cumulative pressures with having the summer pastures in mind, where grazing takes place.”

The current research suggests a significant risk of vegetation and landscape change in the future due to the great extent of cumulative pressures over the region and climate change, resulting in a concentration of grazing in less disturbed areas and expansion of trees and shrubs in disturbed areas.

Journal Reference:

Stoessel, M., et al. (2022) Mapping cumulative pressures on the grazing lands of northern Fennoscandia. Scientific Reports.


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