Rangifer tarandus has a wide-ranging habitat.  There is a woodland subspecies (Rangifer tarandus caribou) that be found as south as 46 degrees north latitude, along with other subspecies (Rangifer tarandus pearyi and Rangifer tarandus platyrhynchus) that can range up to 80 degrees north latitude.  At one point, they occupied Germany, Great Britain, Poland, and Maine, but now are rarely found in these areas due to overhunting and destruction of the land.17

 Reindeer in Alaskan boreal forest near roadside. Westmoreland,S. 2002. "caribou roadside 7 AK sew." (image)


 Most reindeer occupy cold Arctic tundra regions, and also subarctic regions otherwise known as boreal forest or taiga in Eurasia  where they were domesticated 2000 years ago.  Caribou are considered to occupy the regions above the tree-line in arctic North America, specifically Canada and Alaska, and also Greenland.  Also in North America, they extend to eastern Washington and northern Idaho.2,5   

Range Map


 Huffman,B. 2006. "Range Map." (image) <http://www.ultimateungulate.com/Artiodactyla/Rangifer_tarandus.html>. Accessed 4 April 2009.

                                                   Brent Huffman, www.ultimateungulate.com


Arctic tundra is composed of a treeless plain that forms the transition between the taiga (boreal forest) and the ice caps.  It is characterized by a layer of permafrost, or permanently frozen ground under the surface of the soil.  This harsh environment allows for the growth of small, stunted trees and shrubs, as well as tough plants that grow in tufts along the frozen ground called lichens, which are a main source of nutrition for reindeer.  The arctic still contains winter and summer seasons, with the sun U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2005. "Tundra coastal vegetation Alaska". (image) <http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tundra_coastal_vegetation_Alaska.jpg>. Accessed 8 April 2009being present 24 hours a   day in the summer. The normal temperature of the tundra is around -28 degrees C with extremes down to -70 degrees

C. As can be imagined, this leads to the necessity of thick fur coats  to keep warm the organisms that occupy this biome. Precipitation levels consist mainly of 6-10 inches of snow  per year.  The permafrost creates a lot of standing water however, that melts to create small bogs and ponds each summer.  The tundra contains little biodiversity, with only 1700 species of plants and 48 land mammals, including snowy owls, lemmings, musk oxen, and Arctic fox. 13

                    U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "Picea glauca taiga." (image) <http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Picea_glauca_taiga.jpg>. Accessed 8 April 2009.

 The boreal forest biome (or taiga, meaning swampy moist forest) where reindeer also roam, is found in a belt stretching across North America and Eurasia, and mostly includes Canada and Russia.  It is made up of coniferous trees including spruces, firs, and pines, and also tamarack, but also of deciduous alder, aspen, and birch.  The coniferous trees are able to survive the cold, harsh winters that bring about drought and a short growing season.  Most of Alaskan Boreal Forest. Volk,T. 2002.  (image)this biome used to be covered in glaciers, and today, like the Arctic tundra, also contains a layer of permafrost under the soil.  The climate is composed of long, cold winters with up to 6 months being below freezing temperatures.  Summers are short, but with wide-ranging temperatures from cold to extremely hot.  Each year, 15-20 inches of rain fall, but the climate is humid due to low evaporation.14


Other mammals besides reindeer that can occupy the boreal forest biome include ducks, loons, cranes, bison, elk, wolves, grizzly and black bear, and beaver.  Along with shrubs and mosses, the boreal forest is a plentiful supply of yellow, green, and light gray lichens that stay intact all year long, proving once again to be an important food source for reindeer.  Unfortunately, boreal forest is disappearing due to clearance of forests for farmland, mining, or are flooded to  make room for hydroelectric generating stations.  This destruction of the land is also destroying wildlife and  greatly reducing the amount of carbon that can be held in the environment.3



 Check out how reindeer adapt to their environment next!



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