Climate change will endanger caribou habitat, study says

December 15, 2013

Reindeer, from Northern Europe or Asia, are often thought of as a domesticated animal, one that may pull Santa's sled. Caribou, similar in appearance but living in the wilderness of North America, are thought of as conducting an untamed and adventurous life. However, new research published in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests that there are more similarities about these two animals than previously thought and change in climate played a role in their evolution.

A group of 21 researchers from two continents, including Marco Musiani of the University of Calgary, looked closely at the DNA of reindeer in Scandinavia and Asia as well as tundra and woodland caribou in North America to find out more about how their environments were affected in the past and will be influenced in the future by climate change.

As one of the most northern species, caribou will feel the effects of global warming, says Musiani, a professor in the faculties of Environmental Design and Veterinary Medicine and co-author of the study.

"The woodland caribou is already an endangered species in southern Canada and the United States. The warming of the planet means the disappearance of their critical habitat in these regions. Caribou need undisturbed lichen-rich environments and these types of habitats are disappearing," said Musiani, noting that the study projected how the environment will change by the year 2080.

Musiani said the research demonstrates that the animals are not as different from a genetic point of view as some might think given the geographic spread of reindeer and caribou. The two sister groups occur throughout Europe, Asia and North America, from Norway to Eastern Canada.

Researchers found that caribou living in North America, but just south of the continental ice became isolated and evolved their unique characteristics during the last glaciation. At that point, Europe, Asia and Alaska were connected by a land bridge; reindeer occurred there and also evolved separately.

"Then, at meltdown the two groups, reindeer from the North and caribou from the South, reunited and interbred in areas previously glaciated such as the southern Canadian Rockies," says Musiani.

The researchers looked at how the animals were distributed over 21,000 years as the climate changed and at present and found that caribou in Alaska and northern Canada are strikingly similar to reindeer. More typical North American caribou occur only in the lowland forested regions further south.

"Animals more closely related to reindeer occur in North America, throughout its northern and western regions, with some transitional zones, such as the one remarkably placed in the southern Canadian Rockies," said Musiani.
-end-
Musiani is available for interviews on request.

University of Calgary

Related Climate Change Articles from Brightsurf:

Are climate scientists being too cautious when linking extreme weather to climate change?
Climate science has focused on avoiding false alarms when linking extreme events to climate change.

Mysterious climate change
New research findings underline the crucial role that sea ice throughout the Southern Ocean played for atmospheric CO2 in times of rapid climate change in the past.

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.

Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.

Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.

Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.

A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).

Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.

Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.

Read More: Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.