The Commander Islands Nature and Biosphere Reserve is going to launch a research project on introduced reindeer impact on the ecosystem of Bering Island. The first and the only analogous research took place on the Commander Islands in 1986.
Human introduced the reindeer species to Bering Island three times – once in the end of the 19th century and twice in the 20th. The floral communities of the islands developed before the introduction and evolved to live without this species. Even today after comparing satellite photos of the islands from 1999 to 2014, you can see landscape changes on Bering Island. It is easy to find bare patches and erosive rill channels. It is still to be analyzed, if the changes are connected to the reindeer activity and on which scale.
Comparison of plant formations on Bering Island (upper) and Medny Island (lower). Photo by Alexander Shienok
The study started in June 2018 and will continue to the end of summer on Medny and Bering Islands, which are separated by 50-km-long distance. Presumably, the islands had similar floral communities indexes and today the comparison is of scientific interest.
The research will be held in two stages. The first stage is geobotanical expedition, which is already in full swing on Medny Island, the second biggest island in the archipelago. No reindeer stepped on the island and the overall floral state can be set as standard for comparison.
In the framework of the expedition the researcher of the Commander Islands Reserve Botanist Angelica Mogileva will find floral communities similar to those of Bering Island: with the same exposure to sunlight, slope gradient, microrelief, species composition and height above sea level.
At the same time Angelica Mogileva will conduct phenological observations, create a map of rare and endemic plants habitats and will collect new materials for the herbarium. Such complex geobotanical research projects are conducted on Medny Island for the first time.
The reindeer. Photo by Vitaly Ushakov
The second stage of the research project will include similar geobotanical works on Bering Island. Moreover, the specialists of the reserve will continue studying reindeer ecology after starting the activity in 2016.
After the collected data are analyzes we will have a basis to discuss the viability of reindeer population regulation on Bering Island.
As you may know, the domesticated reindeer was brought to Bering Island as a contribution to the food economy of local people. The first attempt was made in 1882 with 15 individuals. In 1917 they disappeared and the second introduction took place in 1927 (17 individuals). Later in 1984, 32 more reindeers were transported and today the total population number of the reindeer on Bering Island is estimated at 1000 to 1500 individuals, according to the Scientific Department of the reserve.