Ecologists debate whether climate change helps or hurts reindeer

Dec 20, 2017

MANY people fear that the rapid disappearance of Arctic sea ice spells doom for polar bears. The effect of global warming on another famous northern species, the reindeer, is, however, less cut and dried. Until recently, researchers thought reindeer benefit, rather than suffer, from climate change. The lichens, grasses and shrubs they eat grow better in warmer summers, and their populations have been rising. But Åshild Ønvik Pedersen and Jean-Charles Gallet of the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) in Tromsø, who have been investigating the matter in detail, argue that the benefits of warmer summers may soon be nullified by the countervailing consequences of warmer and wetter winters.

The reindeer around Ny Ålesund, a former mining town in south-western Svalbard that has now become an Arctic research centre, have been a subject of study for almost four decades. In particular, researchers from the NPI have, since 2000, been looking at the effects on the deer of a phenomenon called “rain-on-snow...

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