Nonlinear Spatial and Temporal Decomposition Provides Insight for Climate Change Effects on Sub‑Arctic Herbivore Populations

Hannah Correia
Torkild Tveraa
Audun Stien
Nigel Yoccoz
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Global temperatures are increasing, affecting timing and availability of vegetation along with relationships between plants and their consumers. We examined the effect of population density, herd body condition in the previous year, elevation, plant productivity and phenology, snow, and winter onset on juvenile body mass in 63 semi-domesticated populations of Rangifer tarandus throughout Norway using spatiotemporal generalized additive models (GAMs) and varying coeffcient models (VCMs). Optimal climate windows were calculated at both the regional and national level using a novel nonlinear climate window algorithm optimized for prediction. Spatial and temporal variation in effects of population and environmental predictors were considered using a model including covariates decomposed into spatial, temporal, and residual components. The performance of this decomposed model was compared to spatiotemporal GAMs and VCMs. The decomposed model provided the best fit and lowest prediction errors. A positive effect of herd body condition in the previous year explained most of the deviance in calf body mass, followed by a more complex effect of population density. A negative effect of timing of spring and positive effect of winter onset on juvenile body mass suggested that a snow free season was positive for juvenile body mass growth. Our findings suggest early spring onset and later winter permanent snow cover as reinforcers of early-life conditions which support more robust reindeer populations. Our methodological improvements for climate window analyses and effect size measures for decomposed variables provide important contributions to account for, measure, and interpret nonlinear relationships between climate and animal populations at large scales.