, Volume 136, Issue 2, pp 317-323
Date: 18 Apr 2003

Global climate change and reindeer: effects of winter weather on the autumn weight and growth of calves

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Abstract

Reindeer/caribou (Rangifer tarandus), which constitute a biological resource of vital importance for the physical and cultural survival of Arctic residents, and inhabit extremely seasonal environments, have received little attention in the global change debate. We investigated how body weight and growth rate of reindeer calves were affected by large-scale climatic variability [measured by the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) winter index] and density in one population in central Norway. Body weights of calves in summer and early winter, as well as their growth rate (summer to early winter), were significantly influenced by density and the NAO index when cohorts were in utero. Males were heavier and had higher absolute growth than females, but there was no evidence that preweaning condition of male and female calves were influenced differently by the NAO winter index. Increasing NAO index had a negative effect on calves' body weight and growth rate. Increasing density significantly reduced body weight and growth rate of calves, and accentuated the effect of the NAO winter index. Winters with a higher NAO index are thus severe for reindeer calves in this area and their effects are associated with nutritional stress experienced by the dams during pregnancy or immediately after calving. Moreover, increased density may enhance intra-specific competition and limits food available at the individual level within cohorts. We conclude that if the current pattern of global warming continues, with greater change occurring in northern latitudes and during winter as is predicted, reduced body weight of reindeer calves may be a consequence in areas where winters with a high NAO index are severe. This will likely have an effect on the livelihood of many northern indigenous peoples, both economically and culturally.