Reindeer adapt to climate change by eating seaweed

phys.org | 4/8/2019 | Staff
reantes (Posted by) Level 3
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The bodies of Svalbard reindeer are extremely well adapted to their arctic home at 79 degrees N latitude. As the northernmost reindeer population on the planet, they are thick and round, which makes it easier for them to tolerate the cold.

They're shorter, smaller and much more sedentary than their cousins on mainland Europe and North America, too. All these characteristics make them much more physiologically efficient, enabling them to survive long cold nights on the sparse vegetation on the island archipelago.

Svalbard - Winters - Warming - Reindeer - Study

Given Svalbard's extreme winters, however, you might guess that global warming might make it easier for the roughly 20,000 reindeer that live there to thrive. A new study from a team of researchers led by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology shows that this isn't necessarily so.

Winter climate change now makes for tougher conditions for these reindeer—enough to force them to eat seaweed, which is not their normal fodder, the researchers report in an article in Ecosphere. But this adaptive behaviour may be one key to their long-term survival.

Biologist - Brage - Bremset - Hansen - University

Biologist Brage Bremset Hansen, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's Centre for Biodiversity Dynamics, and his colleagues have been studying reindeer on Svalbard for decades—long enough to begin to notice an increasing number of warm winters where rain would fall on the snowpack, creating an impenetrable layer of ice on the ground.

The layer of ice makes it difficult, if not impossible, for reindeer to get at the small plants and grasses they graze on during the winter. So what do the reindeer do? They start eating seaweed, Hansen and his colleagues from the Norwegian Polar Institute, the University of Alaska Anchorage, the University of Aarhus in Denmark and UNIS, the University Centre in Svalbard, found.

Researchers - Study - Winter - Tundra

The researchers started their study because of one particularly bad winter when the tundra was...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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