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Providing evidence to improve practice

Individual study: Native vegetation recovery following long-term exclusion of introduced reindeer Rangifer tarandus, South Georgia, UK

Published source details

Leader-Williams N., Smith R.I.L. & Rothery P. (1987) Influence of introduced reindeer on the vegetation of South Georgia: results from a long-term exclusion experiment. Journal of Applied Ecology, 24, 801-822


Sub-Antarctic South Georgia Island (UK) has a species-poor vascular flora (26 species) but diverse bryophyte communities, unadapted to grazing by mammals. Reindeer Rangifer tarandus were introduced to different areas of the island in 1911 and 1925, and have subsequently seriously degraded vegetation. Exclosures were established to assess if this could initiate native plant species recovery.

Reindeer exclosures were established in various plant communities on the island in 1973-1974. Vegetation composition and cover was recorded over 12 years within exclosure plots and areas still subject to grazing (controls).

In the exclosures the native tussock grass Poa flabellata (growing to over 1 m tall) and dwarf shrub Acaena magellanica increased in cover, regaining their former abundance. Non-native annual meadow-grass Poa annua cover (and less so Polytrichum moss and bare ground) decreased in exclosures. Other plant species and communities, including large lichens (e.g. Cladonia spp.), mossbanks, and mires exhibited little recovery over the 12 year period.

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