Findings of a new study have revealed that the warming planet has resulted in weak and smaller reindeer.
Researchers have revealed that on an Arctic island near the north pole, the size of reindeer is shrinking, a phenomenon attributed to climate change.
The rising temperatures caused the reduction of winter food for the animals popularly portrayed pulling the sleigh of Santa Claus as he distributes Christmas gifts to children worldwide.
Researchers caught, marked and measured reindeer in Svalbard, a chain of island north of the Arctic Circle, annually starting 1994 to monitor the size and weight of the animals.
They found that the average weight of the adult reindeer has dropped by about 12 percent from 121 pounds for animals that were born in 1994 to just 106 pounds for those that were born in 2010.
How Climate Change Influences The Size And Weight Of Reindeer
The rising temperatures deprive female reindeer of nutrients during the crucial phases of their gestation.
The snow in Svalbard covers the ground for most of the year and along with low temperatures, limits the growth of grass from June and July.
With warmer summer temperatures, the pastures become more productive and this allows the female reindeer to gain more weight by autumn, helping them conceive more calves.
Amid rising temperatures came warmer winters that bring increased amounts of rainfall that freeze when these settle on the snow. While it is possible for reindeer to reach food through snow, reaching food through ice is nearly impossible so the thick layers of ice lock out the animals from the lichen and moss below, which serve as their life-sustaining food. This results in the female reindeer being deprived of food.
Starvation Affects Size And Growth Of Calves
Starvation causes female reindeer to either abort their calves or give birth to smaller and weaker ones. Calves that manage to survive also have the tendency to experience stunted growth.
"Variation in cohort body size appears to reflect the conditions prevailing in utero, with 'rain-on-snow' in warmer spells during the winter gestation, leading to 'icing', and increased risk of starvation, because forage is no longer available," study researcher Steve Albon, from the James Hutton Institute in Scotland, and colleagues said.
The impact of climate change on reindeer is not limited on animals in Svalbard. The warming climate has likewise reduced the grazing areas of reindeer in Europe, which was witnessed by the Sámi people of Scandinavia, who are traditionally into seasonal reindeer herding.
The study was presented at the annual meeting of the British Ecological Society on Monday, Dec. 12.