Reindeer Are Shrinking With Warming Temperatures, Study Finds

Posted: Dec 13 2016, 12:54am CST | by , Updated: Dec 13 2016, 1:18am CST, in News | Latest Science News

 

Reindeer are Shrinking with Warming Temperatures, Study Finds
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Climate change is likely responsible for the smaller size of reindeer

Often depicted as pulling Santa Clause sleigh, famous Christmas symbol reindeer are facing an unusual crisis. The animal is getting smaller over time. 

Over the past 20 years, the average weight of an adult Svalbard reindeer living in Norwegian Arctic has dropped by 12 percent - from 55 kilograms in 1990s to 48 kg in 2010. And researchers beleive that climate change is to blame for the shrinking size of reindeer. 

“Twelve percent may not sound very much, but given how important body weight is to reproduction and survival, it's potentially huge.” Study leader Steve Albon from James Hutton Institute in Scotland said.

Reindeer are losing access to their food under warming temperatures. When winters are less chilly, the precipitation falls mostly in the form of rain instead of snow and freezes the ground. This means that rain has locked the food inside the ground and has left animals to starve, forcing them to abort their calves or giving birth to much lighter young. 

Reindeer population, on the other hand, has increased considerably over the same period. As temperature rises in summers, reindeer have more food at their access, leading to a population boom. However, the female reindeer has already too weak when she conceives. As a result, there are more but smaller reindeer in the Arctic.

Researchers have been monitoring reindeer in Svalbard since 1994, measuring their 10-month old calves every winter and returning following year to again measure their size and weight. 

There is a possibility that an even more smaller population of reindeer could be observed if the trend continues. Even worse could be a reindeer die-off. A previous study has reported more than 61,000 reindeer deaths in the Yamal Peninsula in Siberia in the winter of 2013-2014 due to similar “rain on snow” event.

Albon says.“The implications are that there may well be more smaller reindeer in the Arctic in the coming decades but possibly at risk of catastrophic die-offs because of increased ice on the ground.” 

 

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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