Shrinking Goats and Climate Change

Open access paper from Frontiers in Zoology reports alpine chamois are shrinking in response to climate change. It’s not a direct effect, rather during hot temperatures chamois rest instead of looking for food which may be affecting their size.

 

Environmental change and long-term body mass declines in an alpine mammal

Introduction

Climate and environmental change have driven widespread changes in body size, particularly declines, across a range of taxonomic groups in recent decades. Size declines could substantially impact on the functioning of ecosystems. To date, most studies suggest that temporal trends in size have resulted indirectly from climate change modifying resource availability and quality, affecting the ability of individuals to acquire resources and grow.

Results

Here, we investigate striking long-term body mass declines in juvenile Alpine chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra), within three neighbouring populations in the Italian Alps. We find strong evidence that increasing population density and warming temperatures during spring and summer are linked to the mass declines. We find no evidence that the timing or productivity of resources have been altered during this period.

Conclusions

We conclude that it is unlikely that environmental change has driven body size change indirectly via effects on resource productivity or phenology. Instead, we propose that environmental change has limited the ability of individuals to acquire resources. This could be due to increases in the intensity of competition and decreases in time spent foraging, owing to high temperatures. Our findings add weight to a growing body of evidence for long-term body size reductions and provide considerable insight into the potential drivers of such trends. Furthermore, we highlight the potential for appropriate management, for instance increases in harvest size, to counteract the impacts of climate change on body mass.

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