Parameterization and validation of an ungulate-pasture model
Pekkarinen, Antti-Juhani; Kumpula, Jouko; Tahvonen, Olli (2017)
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Ecology and Evolution
Ungulate grazing and trampling strongly affect pastures and ecosystems throughout the world. Ecological population models are used for studying these systems and determining the guidelines for sustainable and economically viable management. However, the effect of trampling and other resource wastage is either not taken into account or quantified with data in earlier models. Also, the ability of models to describe the herbivore impact on pastures is usually not validated. We used a detailed model and data to study the level of winter- and summertime lichen wastage by reindeer and the effects of wastage on population sizes and management. We also validated the model with respect to its ability of predicting changes in lichen biomass and compared the actual management in herding districts with model results. The modeling efficiency value (0.75) and visual comparison between the model predictions and data showed that the model was able to describe the changes in lichen pastures caused by reindeer grazing and trampling. At the current lichen biomass levels in the northernmost Finland, the lichen wastage varied from 0 to 1 times the lichen intake during winter and from 6 to 10 times the intake during summer. With a higher value for wastage, reindeer numbers and net revenues were lower in the economically optimal solutions. Higher wastage also favored the use of supplementary feeding in the optimal steady state. Actual reindeer numbers in the districts were higher than in the optimal steady-state solutions for the model in 18 herding districts out of 20. Synthesis and applications. We show that a complex model can be used for analyzing ungulate-pasture dynamics and sustainable management if the model is parameterized and validated for the system. Wastage levels caused by trampling and other causes should be quantified with data as they strongly affect the results and management recommendations. Summertime lichen wastage caused by reindeer is higher than expected, which suggests that seasonal pasture rotation should be used to prevent the heavy trampling of winter lichen pastures during summer. In the present situation, reindeer numbers in northernmost Finland are in most cases higher than in the management solutions given by the model.
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