Within Rangifer ranges, many studies focus on expanding infrastructure and human activity negatively influencing habitat use. Little documentation exists on how disturbances act in synergy (i.e. cumulative effects), nor methods to test such effects.
(1) Investigate how cumulative disturbance at different distances affects reindeer habitat use and (2) at what disturbance levels and distances loss of habitat functionality occurs.
Disturbance intensity levels for trails and infrastructure were based on expected amount of human activity, on a scale from 1 to 6. To test cumulative disturbance, we adapted the multi-grain method and summed-up disturbance intensity levels within “disturbance distance intervals” (0–0.25, 0.25–1, 1–2 km, etc. instead of 0–0.25, 0–1, 0–2 km, etc.), and tested reindeers’ avoidance using GPS data for 2011–2018.
We found decreased habitat use within 0.25 km with increasing cumulative disturbance for snow free and winter seasons. For spring, a similar effect occurred up to 1 km. Reductions in use in areas with highest cumulative disturbance within these zones were between 92 and 98%. Strongest avoidance during spring supports previous studies. Comparatively, the multi-grain approach showed negative effects up to 3 km.
Our approach provides novel results and precisely estimates where cumulative effects actually occur. Reindeer in our study tolerate low intensities of human disturbance, while further increase in disturbance intensity reduces habitat functionality. We suggest clustering future human developments within areas of high disturbance, i.e. where functional habitat use is already lost or highly reduced. Our method can be used for other areas and species.
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