New research has shown that the Alpine Chamois, a species of mountain goat, has begun to shrink in response to rising temperatures and climate change. According to the results of the study, a young Chamois now weighs roughly 25 percent less than those of the same age measured in 1980.
The research, which was funded by the Natural Environmental Research Council, drew a direct link between the decline in body weight of the mountain goats and the rising temperatures caused by climate change. The Italian Alps, where the study was conducted, have experienced an average temperature rise of three to four degrees Celsius over the last 30 years throughout the region.
According to Dr. Tom Mason of Durham University, the Lead Author of the published research, size decline of animals in response to climate change is nothing new and has been documented in many species of fishes, birds and mammals. However, the rate and magnitude at which the Alpine Chamois is getting smaller is much faster than average and has left scientists astonished and worried.
While most of the size decline documented in animal species has been linked to the decreasing nutritional content of their food, the decline in size of the Alpine Chamois is believed to be a direct result of the animals’ changing behavioral patterns. As climate change continues, the warmer temperatures force the mountain goats to spend more time resting in sheltered areas through the heat of the day, therefore spending less time in search of food. This decrease in activity may be affecting their overall size much more than the quality of the vegetation they consume when feeding.
While the future of the Alpine Chamois is still uncertain, Mason believes that this decline in size and body weight could lead to problems for the survival of the species’ future populations. According to Dr. Stephen Phillips, also of Durham University and one the co-authors of the study, the body mass of the juvenile mountain goat is very important in order for the animal to survive through the harsh winter season in its alpine habitat.
As well as shedding some light on the dramatic effects climate change can and does have on a variety of animal species, this research also shows the effects that global warming may have on domestic livestock in the near-future. If the changing behavioral patterns observed in the Chamois are echoed by widely used animals such as cows or sheep, these species could also decline in size, possibly causing widespread ramifications to agricultural productivity.
The Alpine Chamois is found in the European Alps, the Balkans, the Tatra Mountains and parts of Turkey and the Caucasus. It is also found in New Zealand after being introduced in 1907 to the country’s southern island. They are known for being excellent mountaineers and will often ascend to the highest and most treacherous places in their mountainous habitat to escape predators. They are capable of leaping up to two meters vertically and six meters across and have been observed while running up to 50 kilometers an hour over steep and broken ground.
By Mathew Channer