For reindeer, is climate change naughty or nice?

A reindeer forages, in Norway. ©Andi Gentsch

While the disappearance of Arctic sea ice is threatening polar bears (Ursus maritimus), the consequences of climate change for reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) is more nuanced, the Economist reports.

“Until recently, researchers thought reindeer benefit, rather than suffer, from climate change,” the magazine writes. Warmer summers produce more lichens, grasses and shrubs the reindeer use for forage. But research from the Norwegian Polar Institute suggests that while the warmer summers may benefit reindeer, the negative effects of warmer, wetter winters may have dire consequences.

Looking at the phenomenon of “rain on snow,” the researchers found the increased rainwater freezes and seals off the tundra beneath a sheet of ice the reindeer can’t break through to forage.

“The greater the average thickness of the ice in their study area is, the fewer are the animals that survive the winter and the fewer the calves born the following spring,” the Economist writes.

Read the full story here.