The average weight of an adult reindeer fell from 121 pounds to 106 pounds.
Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, and Vixen might be hauling a few less pounds on their Christmas Eve flight this year as new ecological research shows that the North Pole's reindeer are getting thinner.
According to Professor Steve Albon, an ecologist at the James Hutton Institute in Scotland, recent warmer winters in the Arctic have had surprising implications for the reindeer populations residing there. The rise in temperatures, as a result of climate change, has limited the animals' access to food during the season, resulting in a significantly lower average weight across the reindeer population.
Albon, who presented his findings at a recent meeting of the British Ecological Society, reports that the average weight of an adult reindeer on the Arctic islands of Svalbard, fell from 121 pounds to 106 pounds in the 1990s as a result of the dramatic increase in temperature.
This increase has meant increasing instances of winter rainfall in regions that previously experienced consistent snowfall. Following a rainfall, the water is likely to freeze into a solid sheet of ice, making a barrier between the herbivores and the plant life. Limited access to food and nutrients can mean death from starvation, the birth of stunted calves, and a slimmer herd overall.
However, despite this substantial drop in average weight, the size of the Arctic reindeer population is booming thanks to flourishing plant life in the summers. Since reindeer are more likely to conceive in autumn, a bountiful summer means healthier, more fertile females, and therefore, increased births.
"Warmer summers are great for reindeer but winters are getting increasingly tough, says Albon. The researcher notes that "so far we have more but smaller reindeer," though rising populations can mean further intensified competition for scarce food supplies in the winter months.
One Arctic animal that has benefitted from a weakened reindeer heard is the Arctic fox, which has seen a rise in population in recent years as a result of their food supply—dead reindeer—going up. According to Eve Fuglei, a researcher at the Norweigen Polar Institute, "all the week reindeer die—the sick, the elderly, and calves," and the foxes scavenge the leftovers to get their nutrient fix.
Luckily for Rudolph, he and his reindeer friends are still safe and sound in Santa's Village.
(h/t The Guardian)