Vigilance behavior in wild and semi-domestic reindeer in Norway

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Authors: Eigil Reimers and Sigurd Svela
Date: Spring 2001
From: Alces(Vol. 37, Issue 2)
Publisher: Alces
Document Type: Article
Length: 4,945 words

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ABSTRACT: We recorded vigilance behavior of a wild reindeer (Rangifer tarandus tarandus) population in Rondane North and a population of semi-domesticated origin in Norefjell-Reinsjofjell during 3 periods (April-May, June-July, and August) in 1997 in southern Norway. The 2 areas studied have different histories of hunting, domestication, predation, and human activity. A vigilance bout was defined as the act of interrupting feeding by lifting the head above the shoulders and briefly observing the surrounding area for < 10 seconds before returning to feeding. The Rondane North population of reindeer displayed a higher rate of vigilance during all periods compared with the Norefjell-Reinsjofjell population (P < 0.0001). The Norefjell-Reinsjofjell reindeer devoted more time to predator-vulnerable activities such as lying head down and lying head flat, than the population inhabiting Rondane North. Higher rates of vigilance behavior displayed by the Rondane reindeer most likely are related to differential elimination of animals during the evolutionary history of domestication, and by hunting in the 2 areas. Habituation to humans and the presence or absence of large mammalian predators may also contribute to the observed differences in vigilance behavior.

ALCES VOL. 37 (2): 303-313 (2001)

Keywords: behavior, domestication, group size, hunting, predator risk, Rangifer tarandus, reindeer, vigilance


Grouping and vigilance behavior in animals is a product of co-evolution with

predators and parasitizing insects (Hamilton 1971, Mooring and Hart 1992), and selective pressure from hunting and domestication. Although food density, intra-group competition and other factors not directly related to predation may also affect vigilance, it is largely concerned with looking for predators (reviewed in Elgar 1989). Although availability of food, intra-group competition, and other factors not directly related to predation also may affect vigilance, animals are largely concerned with surveillance for predators (Elgar 1989). Because an animal must accomplish more in its lifetime than simply avoiding predation, its antipredator adaptations should be sensitive to the current level of predation risk (Lima and Dill 1990, Frid 1997). Caribou and wild and semi-domestic reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), which live in comparable environments, are expected to have similar behavioral repertoires (Pruitt 1960, Kelsall 1968, Baskin 1970, Thomson 1975, Skogland 1989), although possibly different quantitative expression of behaviors (Skogland 1991) related primarily to the risk of predation (Lent 1974, Curatolo 1975, Skogland 1989).

Because vigilance behavior is a fitness-related behavioral trait, we expect natural selection to favor individuals that displayed the most suitable rate of vigilance. Reindeer in the Palearctic have co-existed for millennia with predators and man. Over time, this coexistence possibly has lead to selection for increased alertness and vigilance behavior of wild reindeer. Selection most likely works in the opposite direction in domestic reindeer husbandry. Vigilant animals are more difficult to handle, and control and herders tend to eliminate the shyest reindeer (Baskin 1970).

The purpose of our study was to compare vigilance behavior among semi-domestic reindeer released to the wild in Norefjell-Reinsjofjell in 1968 with wild reindeer inhabiting Rondane North. We predicted that the semi-domesticated reindeer in Norefjell-Reinsjofjell should exhibit lower vigilance overall compared with wild reindeer of...

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Source Citation
Reimers, Eigil, and Sigurd Svela. "Vigilance behavior in wild and semi-domestic reindeer in Norway." Alces, vol. 37, no. 2, spring 2001, pp. 303+. Accessed 8 June 2023.

Gale Document Number: GALE|A92803132