Ecology and economics of reindeer herding systems

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


The reindeer (Rangifer tarandus L.) is a key species in Fennoscandia, where nearly 40% of the land area is used as reindeer pasture. Reindeer herding is an important source of income for local people and an intrinsic part of the Sami culture In this thesis, the reindeer herding system is studied using a detailed interdisciplinary dynamic model. An age- and sex-structured reindeer-lichen model is developed using findings from previous research and novel data. The model also takes other winter resources, including supplementary food, into account in addition to ground lichens. This ecological model is combined with economic optimization and a description of the herding system with empirically estimated prices, costs, and governmental subsidies. The model is validated and calibrated to describe the reindeer herding system in the northern part of Finnish Lapland. The results for population dynamics without harvesting show that the reindeer-lichen system described by the model is unstable in the absence of predators. However, high availability of arboreal lichens stabilizes the system. In economically optimal solutions increasing the interest rate increases the steady-state reindeer population level, opposite to classical understanding in resource economics. Natural mortality is close to zero in optimal steady-state solutions and harvesting is concentrated on calves. The number of adult males is kept as low as possible without decreasing the reproduction rate of the population. This leads to much higher shadow values for males compared to females. The results show that in order to study sustainable and economically viable reindeer management, both ecological and economic factors must be taken into account, as they strongly affect the solutions and management recommendations. One of the main findings is that the economically optimal steady-state lichen biomass can be surprisingly low. High interest rate, lack of pasture rotation, low growth rate of ground lichen, high availability of arboreal lichens, and government subsidies all decrease the steady-state lichen biomass. Using intensive supplementary feeding to support larger reindeer herds, which leads to the depletation of lichens, can additionally become optimal in certain cases. When recovering from overgrazed lichen pastures, use of supplementary feeding and the amount of arboreal lichens have an important role in the optimal adaptation process. The wintertime wastages estimated in this study are close to earlier suggestions, but summertime wastage is higher than expected. Seasonal pasture rotation could thus considerably help reduce the summertime trampling of winter pastures. The model validation solutions show that the model is able to describe changes in lichen biomass with good accuracy. Using the validated model and calibrated wastage values we found that reindeer numbers in northernmost Finland in the present situation are in most cases higher than in the management solutions given by the model.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Helsinki
  • Tahvonen, Olli, Supervisor
  • Kumpula, Jouko, Supervisor, External person
Award date16 Mar 2018
Place of PublicationHelsinki
Print ISBNs978-951-651-589-5
Electronic ISBNs978-951-651-588-8
Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2018
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)

Fields of Science

  • 1172 Environmental sciences
  • 511 Economics

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