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The Introduction, Increase, and Crash of Reindeer on St. Matthew Island

David R. Klein
The Journal of Wildlife Management
Vol. 32, No. 2 (Apr., 1968), pp. 350-367
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Wildlife Society
DOI: 10.2307/3798981
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3798981
Page Count: 18
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The Introduction, Increase, and Crash of Reindeer on St. Matthew Island
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Abstract

Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), introduced to St. Matthew Island in 1944, increased from 29 animals at that time to 6,000 in the summer of 1963, and underwent a crash die-off the following winter to less than 50 animals. In 1957, the body weight of the reinder was found to exceed that of reindeer in domestic herds by 24-53 percent among females and 46-61 percent among males. The population also responded to the high quality and quantity of the forage on the island by increasing rapidly due to a high birth rate and low mortality. By 1963, the density of the reindeer on the island had reached 46.9 per square mile and ratios of fawns and yearlings to adult cows had dropped from 75 and 45 percent respectively, in 1957 to 60 and 26 percent in 1963. Average body weights had decreased from 1957 by 38 percent for adult females and 43 percent for adult males and were comparable to weights of reindeer in domestic herds. Lichens had been completely eliminated as a significant component of the winter diet. Sedges and grasses were expanding into sites previously occupied by lichens. In the late winter of 1963-64, in association with extreme snow accumulation, virtually the entire population of 6,000 reindeer died of starvation. With one known exception, all of the surviving reindeer (42 in 1966) were females. The pattern of reindeer population growth and die-off on St. Matthew Island has been observed on other island situations with introduced animals and is believed to be a product of the limited development of ecosystems and the associated deficiency of potential population-regulating factors on islands. Food supply, through its interaction with climatic factors, was the dominant population regulating mechanism for reindeer on St. Matthew Island.

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