Svalbard reindeer thrive as they shift diet towards ‘popsicle-like’ grasses | Wildlife

As the Arctic warms, concerns about the plight of Santa’s favorite sleigh puller grow.

Warmer temperatures have encouraged plant growth, giving Svalbard’s reindeer more time to store fat. They also appear to shift their food to “popsicle-like” grasses sticking out of the ice and snow, the data suggests.

Svalbard’s reindeer are smaller and plumper than their Lapland reindeer, but they boast impressive antlers. They live in almost all non-glacial areas of Svalbard, just 800 km from the North Pole.

Like other Arctic regions, Svalbard is experiencing thicker snowfall and more frequent snowfall events. Rain falls on the existing snow cover and freezes. In recent years, it has become difficult for reindeer to dig for food.

Massive reindeer famine in Russia and reports of declining caribou populations in Canada and Alaska have also raised concerns for reindeer in Svalbard. However, in the archipelago’s most productive areas, reindeer populations have surged in recent decades.

A battle between two Svalbard reindeer for control of a harem. Photo: Stefano Unterthiner/PA

To investigate the causes of population growth, Tamara Hirtunen, a Ph.D. I looked. By comparing the carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios in these samples, we were able to infer the type of plant the reindeer had been eating in the previous week.

The study, published in Global Change Biology, found that between 1995 and 2012, when rain-and-snow events normalized, summer temperatures warmed, and reindeer populations increased, low-growing mosses suggests that the diet has shifted from and toward grass-like “graminoid” plants.

Professor Geoffrey Welker of the University of Oulu, who oversaw the study, said, “The upright nature of the glaminoid stems allows the animals to utilize their forage even in the presence of ice as small as a centimeter.” It has the equivalent of a popsicle stick, which has enough nutrition for animals to sustain themselves even during the stressful winter months.”

Higher soil temperatures and more reindeer droppings and urine falling to the ground are also promoting glaminoid growth, which may further benefit reindeer in Svalbard.

“This is definitely encouraging news,” said Professor Jaakko Putkonen of the University of North Dakota. His work had previously predicted that rain-affected Arctic regions would increase as the 20th century progressed. “But nature is an endless web of interdependent variables. Some upcoming changes may be good for reindeer, others harmful.

“For example, there are reports from Scandinavia of rain on top of the snow promoting the growth of fungi (such as toxic molds) under the snow cover due to temperate conditions that have led reindeer to avoid the area. There is. They may be trading one challenge for another.”

Welker also warned that events in Svalbard may not apply to other parts of the Arctic.

“Just as there are indications that the reindeer population in Svalbard may have some way of adapting and adapting to these changes, there are declining other populations in Alaska, for example. There is a group of

“This speaks to the complexity of the Arctic. What’s happening in one place isn’t the same as what’s happening elsewhere.”

But the future looks bright for Svalbard’s reindeer. The archipelago is a promising recruiting ground if Santa needs more help. However, given its small size, you may need to invest in a smaller sled.

“I’m sure they can do it. They might be a little obese.” not.”

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