'Shrinking goats' another indicator that climate change affects animal size

October 21, 2014
A juvenile Alpine Chamois in the Italian Alps. Credit: Tom Mason

Alpine goats appear to be shrinking in size as they react to changes in climate, according to new research from Durham University.

The researchers studied the impacts of changes in temperature on the body size of Alpine Chamois, a species of mountain goat, over the past 30 years.

To their surprise, they discovered that young Chamois now weigh about 25 per cent less than animals of the same age in the 1980s.

In recent years, decreases in body size have been identified in a variety of animal species, and have frequently been linked to the changing climate.

However, the researchers say the decline in size of Chamois observed in this study is striking in its speed and magnitude.

The research, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council is published in the journal Frontiers in Zoology.

Lead author Dr Tom Mason, in the School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, at Durham University, said: "Body size declines attributed to climate change are widespread in the animal kingdom, with many fish, bird and mammal species getting smaller.

"However the decreases we observe here are astonishing. The impacts on Chamois weight could pose real problems for the survival of these populations."

The team delved into long-term records of Chamois body weights provided by hunters in the Italian Alps.

They discovered that the declines were strongly linked to the warming climate in the study region, which became 3-4oC warmer during the 30 years of the study.

A mother and juvenile Chamois in the Italian Alps. Credit: Tom Mason

To date, most studies have found that animals are getting smaller because the changing climate is reducing the availability or nutritional content of their food.

However, this study found no evidence that the productivity of Alpine meadows grazed by Chamois had been affected by the warming climate. Instead, the team believes that higher temperatures are affecting how chamois behave.

Co-author Dr Stephen Willis, in the School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, at Durham University, said: "We know that Chamois cope with hot periods by resting more and spending less time searching for food, and this may be restricting their size more than the quality of the vegetation they eat.

"If climate change results in similar behavioural and body mass changes in domestic livestock, this could have impacts on agricultural productivity in coming decades."

According to the authors, the future plight of the Chamois remains unclear.

Dr Philip Stephens, another co-author on the study, in the School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, at Durham University, said: "The body mass of juvenile animals is critical to their ability to survive harsh winters.

"However, whether that becomes a problem will depend on the balance of future climate change between the seasons."

The research suggests that declining body size is a result of changes in both climate and the density of animals.

To counter declining body size in future, the researchers say it might be necessary to maintain Chamois populations at lower densities than occur at present, perhaps through changes in hunting regulations.

Dr Mason added: "This study shows the striking, unforeseen impacts that climate change can have on animal populations.

"It is vital that we continue to study how affects species such as Chamois. Changes in could act as early-warning systems for worse impacts to come, such as the collapses of populations."

Explore further: Complex sex life of goats could have implications for wildlife management

Related Stories

Chamois had pneumonia: Cause of death established

May 16, 2014

In spring 2010, nearly a third of the chamois living in a region of northern Austria suddenly died of unexplained causes. Concerned hunters and foresters sent the carcasses to the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna ...

Recommended for you

Honeybees threatened by virulent virus

June 30, 2016

Researchers have found that honeybees in Europe are at significantly higher risk from an emerging viral variant, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Deceptive sexual signals keep the peace in a bonobo society

June 29, 2016

Female bonobos could have become the dominant sex in their societies by deceiving males as to when they are likely to conceive, according to research published in the open access journal BMC Evolutionary Biology. The females' ...

UK wildlife calendar reshuffled by climate change

June 29, 2016

Climate change is already reshuffling the UK's wildlife calendar, and it's likely this will continue into the future, according to new research published this week in the journal Nature.

Mountaineering ants use body heat to warm nests

June 29, 2016

For their colonies to survive at high altitudes, army ants keep their underground nests as much as 13 degrees F warmer than surface temperatures, according to a new study by Drexel University scientists.

27 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

teslaberry
2.6 / 5 (18) Oct 21, 2014
more bad science. inconclusive bullshit. typical, you will see every last ecology research tied to global warming because of a political agenda to only fund projects with buzzwords in them for global warming.
tadchem
2.8 / 5 (16) Oct 21, 2014
"post hoc, ergo propter hoc" or "cum hoc ergo propter hoc"?
Either way this is a fallacy of accident. There has been no effort to control for any other factors that may have arisen in 30+ years to influence the size of the goats.
BBould
2.5 / 5 (16) Oct 21, 2014
Articles like these, which there are numerous of, are making a laughing stock of the science. The absurdity of this claim is beyond imagination.
JoeBlue
1.7 / 5 (12) Oct 21, 2014
LOL! That is not how metabolisms work, and this is not science, it's speculation and borderline, "magic" talk.
TegiriNenashi
2.1 / 5 (14) Oct 21, 2014
"...were strongly linked to the warming climate in the study region, which became 3-4C warmer during the 30 years of the study." -- are we supposed to take their word for it? How did regional temperature has been measured, with Parking Lot Thermometer (WUWT TM)?
freethinking
2.1 / 5 (14) Oct 21, 2014
If they didn't link this to AGW how would you expect them to get any funding. That's how research funding is done these days. Investigate something and then blame the results on AGW.

Corruption and incompetence are the Progressive and Democrats way of doing business.
TegiriNenashi
1 / 5 (6) Oct 21, 2014
Actually, I take my statement back. Some alpine regions experience glacial lost which was continued since the last ice age. Therefore, loss of albedo driving up the temperature 3-4 degrees is believable. Which makes the article slightly less ridiculous for a reader with even rudimentary knowledge of complexity of systems biology.
cjn
4.4 / 5 (7) Oct 21, 2014
FTA: "The research suggests that declining body size is a result of changes in both climate and the density of animals.

To counter declining body size in future, the researchers say it might be necessary to maintain Chamois populations at lower densities than occur at present, perhaps through changes in hunting regulations."

This is priceless. So there are more of Chamois now than there were previously, which typically indicates greater resources or reduced predation. Either way, an increased number indicates that the environment is more favorable for them than it was 30 years ago. If I were to guess, the Chamois pop will do what all pop's do and increase beyond the ability of the region to sustain them, then have a massive pop crash. After the crash, body size will go back up as more resources are available. Also, Its great that they note a correlation between pop size and physical body size, but that it can be completely disregarded in favor of climate change as the sole cause.
kellen_medway
5 / 5 (3) Oct 21, 2014
Bergmann's rule--an ecogeographic principle that states that within a broadly distributed taxonomic clade, populations and species of larger size are found in colder environments, and species of smaller size are found in warmer regions. The earliest explanation, given by Bergmann when originally formulating the rule, is that larger animals have a lower surface area to volume ratio than smaller animals, so they radiate less body heat per unit of mass, and therefore stay warmer in cold climates. Warmer climates impose the opposite problem: body heat generated by metabolism needs to be dissipated quickly rather than stored within. Thus, the higher surface area-to-volume ratio of smaller animals in hot and dry climates facilitates heat loss through the skin and helps cool the body.

From Wikipedia
TegiriNenashi
1 / 5 (8) Oct 21, 2014
Bergmann's rule--an ecogeographic principle that states that within a broadly distributed taxonomic clade, populations and species of larger size are found in colder environments, and species of smaller size are found in warmer regions....


That is bunch of baloney. It is well known that the distance to the earth center is longer at equator. Hence lower gravitational force experienced by a specimen causing it to grow to lager sizes. Still not convinced? Consider centrifugal force.
MikPetter
4 / 5 (4) Oct 21, 2014
Worth reading the full paper, this is a follow on from their previous work looking at changes in range altitude and range overlap problems with domestic herds. http://www.fronti.../11/1/69
extract from the full paper
"We have detected strong links between recent environmental change and negative temporal body mass trends in juvenile chamois. Increases in both temperature, due to climate change, and population density, due to stricter controls on hunting, appear to be driving the mass declines. Since we found no evidence for an effect of changing resource productivity or phenology on body mass, the observed patterns may not be mediated by changes in vegetation."
JoeBlue
1.7 / 5 (6) Oct 21, 2014
Worth reading the full paper, this is a follow on from their previous work looking at changes in range altitude and range overlap problems with domestic herds. http://www.fronti.../11/1/69
extract from the full paper
"We have detected strong links between recent environmental change and negative temporal body mass trends in juvenile chamois. Increases in both temperature, due to climate change, and population density, due to stricter controls on hunting, appear to be driving the mass declines. Since we found no evidence for an effect of changing resource productivity or phenology on body mass, the observed patterns may not be mediated by changes in vegetation."


Simply implying something doesn't make it true.
Dug
1 / 5 (5) Oct 21, 2014
"goats appear to be shrinking" - Perhaps you should try viewing them closer.
TegiriNenashi
2.1 / 5 (11) Oct 21, 2014
There is some positive development: no usual "denier" labeling, which means that even believers are hard pressed to buy into this piece of research. Wouldn't be surprised to find them clandestinely enjoying WUWT poking fun into it.
Rustybolts
2.8 / 5 (11) Oct 22, 2014
I finally figured it out. Climate change is shrinking the brains of the new generation of college kids. It makes total sense! There can be no other reason.
EnricM
3 / 5 (6) Oct 22, 2014
If they didn't link this to AGW how would you expect them to get any funding. That's how research funding is done these days. Investigate something and then blame the results on AGW.

Corruption and incompetence are the Progressive and Democrats way of doing business.


What are you waiting for? If you know how to get funding, why are you wasting your time instead of getting stinky rich?

I really don't understand you folks.
verkle
Oct 22, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
antialias_physorg
4.5 / 5 (8) Oct 22, 2014
I agree with many of the above comments that this article's reasoning and conclusions are quite unscientific.

Well, that clinches it. There's no better indication that something is good science than if verkle disapproves.

It is well known that the distance to the earth center is longer at equator. Hence lower gravitational force experienced by a specimen causing it to grow to lager sizes.

The difference between the extreme values on Earth is 0.7% (The Earth, proportional to its size, would only barely not pass the billard ball association stipulation for roundness...but would pass muster for smoothness ).
And a change of a species in one region can't be explained by gravitational differences to other regions in any case.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.8 / 5 (4) Oct 22, 2014
"perhaps through hunting regulations"

-I'm sure they know that hunters tend to take the larger animals first, and will somehow word their regulations to compensate -?
Steve 200mph Cruiz
3.7 / 5 (9) Oct 22, 2014
You guys are idiots.
It's not a buzz word, it might not be a definitive cause, but it appears to be a wide spread phenomenon in alpine climates.
One thing that has changed in recent decades is the average temperature in those climates, as marked by glaciation surveys. As most mountainous regions have warmed, and different species of mountain goats have shrunk, there seems to be a correlation.

If you would all pull your heads out of your asses, and wanted to be serious, you could suggest a study to disprove these claims. Last week there was an article that the Himalayas haven't warmed as much as other mountain ranges. Then you could compare Himalayan mountain species, with species from the Rockies or whatever. Then you could prove all the scientists wrong. Hop to it guys.
TegiriNenashi
2.6 / 5 (5) Oct 22, 2014
...Then you could compare Himalayan mountain species, with species from the Rockies or whatever. Then you could prove all the scientists wrong...


The correct comparison would keep all the variables (but the temperature) the same, which pretty much invalidates the study. It is from "not even wrong" category, where real scientists just chuckle and wonder why it haven't been submitted to the Annals of Improbable Research.
antigoracle
1 / 5 (6) Oct 22, 2014
Wow!!
Another case of AGW Cult settled "science"
antialias_physorg
4.3 / 5 (6) Oct 23, 2014
The correct comparison would keep all the variables (but the temperature) the same

Look up 'multivariate study' and how they are done. Please don't comment on climate science until you understand basic statistical analysis.
Porgie
1 / 5 (4) Oct 23, 2014
Climate change is a desperate term. There has not been an increase in global temperatures in 20 years. The polar ice caps expanded 155,000 square miles in 2014. There are Asian glaciers that have been growing for ten years. Climate change is just that it changes in one direction then changes in the other. The warming part is only for political gain and is grossly irresponsible like those pushing it.
TegiriNenashi
1 / 5 (3) Oct 23, 2014
"We fitted models to examine the effects of seven predictor variables – time of day, time of day2, presence of sheep, tempfixed, templocal, altitude use, and group size – on three response variables: altitude use, local temperature, and foraging (see Fig. 2)."

So far so good, although I would also include local hunters club membership to this list
(continued)
TegiriNenashi
1 / 5 (4) Oct 23, 2014
"Based on our a priori expectations, we allowed quadratic effects of time of day on all three response variables. We also considered a quadratic effect of templocal on foraging. All other predictors had linear effects. The two response variables of principal interest are altitude use and foraging. Altitude use is continuous, and was modelled using a gaussian error structure. Foraging is binary (within each scan sample individuals were classified as 1 if foraging and 0 for any other behaviour) and was modelled using a binomial error structure. "

OK, that what R specialists normally do (and payed big bucks), but may I suggest that the species size may be more dependent by the kind of food they consume rather than just the frequency of "foraging"?
TegiriNenashi
1 / 5 (5) Oct 23, 2014
So, there is a lot of statistics masturbation based on plenty of assumptions. Are their findings invariant to assumptions modification? This is kind of question physicists (not zoologists) routinely asked, this is why you rarely find amateurs poking fun on their research.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.