Introduced reindeer and their effects on the vegetation and the epigeic invertebrate fauna of South Georgia (subantarctic)
The introduced reindeer of South Georgia have had a serious impact on the vegetation throughout the range of three populations on the island. Exclosure experiments in areas where the reindeer were introduced have resulted in a dramatic change in the composition of the protected vegetation. Poa flabellata (the major winter food) and Acaena magellanica (a major summer food) have recovered to their former status inside the exclosures, while Deschampsia antarctia and the introduced grass Poa annua tolerate grazing and trampling and have spread over the grazed areas. Festuca contracta and Rostkovia magellanica are not eaten by the reindeer. Trampling has resulted in a high proportion of bare soil and peat in sites freely accessible to reindeer. However, the changes in the vegetation have not had such a significant effect on the associated invertebrate fauna. Thus in grazed and protected areas the faunistic composition is qualitatively similar, although there are quantitative differences, and some of the trends can probably be attributed to the presence of the reindeer. Compared with reindeer-free areas, the abundance of the perimylopid beetle Hydromedion sparsutum (a major primary decomposer) is reduced. The frequency of their egg parasite Notomymar aptenosoma (Hymenoptera, Mymaridae) increases. Consequently the ratio of perimylopoids to mymarids found in pitfall traps shifts from 1:0.01 (ungrazed areas) to 1:0.54 (grazed areas). Also the frequency of sciarids was found to be higher in reindeer areas. The larvae of these probably introduced gnats do not play a role in the natural terrestrial ecosystem of South Georgia, but in reindeer areas they appear to establish larger populations because they are able to live deeper in the soil and in hardened substrates. There is also a shift in the ratio between Collembola (major prey) to spiders from 1:1.3 (ungrazed areas) to 1:0.82 (grazed areas), for animals collected in pitfall traps. This may be a result of the trampling effect of the reindeer.
Authors: Vogel, Michael, Remmert, Herman, Smith, Ronald I.L.