The arctic archipelago of Svalbard is already experiencing dramatic effects from climate change. A new study shows how these changes can force wild reindeer to graze on seaweed, a strategy that increases their likelihood of survival— and is recorded in their poop.
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.
Given Svalbard’s extreme winters, however, you might guess that global warming might make it easier for the roughly 20000 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. MORE
Header image: Brage B. Hansen/NTNU.