Recent studies have shown that optimal reproductive allocation depends on both climatic conditions and population density. We tested this hypothesis using six years of demographic data from eight reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) populations coupled with data on population abundance and vegetation greenness [measured using the Enhanced Vegetation Index (EVI)].2.
Female spring body mass positively affected summer body mass gain, and lactating females were unable to compensate for harsh winters as efficiently as barren ones. Female spring body mass was highly sensitive to changes in population abundance and vegetation greenness and less dependent on previous autumn body mass and reproductive status. Lactating females were larger than barren females in the spring. Moreover, female autumn body mass was positively related to female autumn body mass and reproductive success and was not very sensitive to changes in vegetation greenness and population abundance.3.
Offspring autumn body mass was positively related to both maternal spring and autumn body mass, and as predicted from theory, offspring were more sensitive to changes in vegetation greenness and population abundance than adult females. A lagged cost of reproduction was present as larger females who were barren, the previous year produced larger offspring than equally sized females that successfully reproduced the previous year.4.
Reproductive success was negatively related to female autumn body mass and positively related to female spring body mass. Moreover, females who successfully reproduced the previous year experienced the highest reproductive success. The fact that negative density-dependence was only present for females that had successfully reproduced the previous year further support the hypothesis that reproduction is costly.5.
This study shows that female reindeer buffer their reproductive allocation according to expected winter conditions and that their buffering abilities were limited by population abundance and a lagged cost of reproduction and enhanced by vegetation greenness.