Monday 19 August 2019

Mass starvation of reindeer linked to climate change and habitat loss

AUGUST 6, 2019
by Ilona Kater, The Conversation
Reindeer are incredibly hardy creatures—they survived the last Ice Age and today live in some of the world's most inhospitable landscapes. Despite their fine-tuned adaptations to life in the Arctic and after over 600,000 years of living there, reindeer are struggling to survive the rapid changes happening all around them.
In the winter of 2013-14, 61,000 reindeer starved to death in the Yamal peninsula of Russia. The population crashed, devastating the Yamal Nenets—an indigenous people who herd the reindeer for food. A more recent census found that 200 reindeer in Svalbard, Norway didn't survive the winter of 2018-19.
These mass starvations were largely due to climate change, which is causing unusual spikes of warm winter weather in the Arctic. The higher winter temperatures cause snow to melt and refreeze, or to fall as rain which also refreezes. The icy sheet encases lichen on the ground—the reindeers' main winter food supply. The reindeer can't dig through it and often the ice freezes over such a large area that they starve while wandering, trying to reach the plants they can smell beneath them.

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