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Tiny, Hungry Rudolph: Reindeer are Shrinking Due to Climate Change

Dec 12, 2016 11:28 AM EST

This Christmas, Santa might find it hard to maneuver his sleigh as a new study from the British Ecological Society (BES) has revealed that reindeer are getting smaller and hungrier -- all because of climate change in the North Pole.

The study, titled "Reindeer are shrinking: Will Santa need more to pull his sleigh?," notes that one of the consequences of climate change taking its effect in the North Pole is the shortage of food supply for animals, including reindeer on Svalbard who have gotten smaller and lighter.

During the annual survey done by ecologists from he James Hutton Institute, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research and Norwegian University of Life Sciences, it showed that for the past 16 years, the weight of reindeer has decreased by 12 percent. To put it into perspective, this means that reindeer who are born in 1994 weigh an average of 55 kilograms while those born in 2010 has an average weight of 48 kilograms.

Steve Albon, lead author of the study, attributes this dramatic decline in reindeer weight to three main factor that are all connected to climate change: increasing summer temperature, warmer winters, and increasing population and competition.

"In Svalbard, snow covers the ground for eight months of the year, and low temperatures typically limit grass growth to June and July," Albon tells Science Daily. "But as summer temperatures have increased by 1.5°C, pastures have become more productive, allowing female reindeer to gain more weight by the autumn and therefore conceive more calves."

Meanwhile, Reuters notes that the increase of temperature during winter leads to more rainfall, making it harder for reindeer to reach plants, which are their food sources. In fact, the outlet notes that some of these animals starve due to the inaccessibility of food, while females give birth to stunted babies.

The increase in reindeer population has also lead to a steeper competition for food among the animals, which leads to their shrinking.

Emma Shor, an agricultural blogger, also noted that reindeer herding during current times in the North Pole has been different from past practices. For example, herders have used modern machines and technology to improve their livelihood instead of using traditional practices, CS Monitor reports.

"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," Albon said.

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