Threats: Climate change

Climate change is a concept we have become accustomed to. We hear about flooding disasters in Asia and hurricanes in the USA. But what about Norway? Do we see any effects of climate change, and what will climate change mean for the wild reindeer?

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has concluded that we face great challenges in connection with climate change. The climate experts believe that the changes will mean rising temperatures and more extreme weather. These changes can also have consequences for the wild reindeer living in the Norwegian mountains.

The properties of the snow and ice and the amount of snow will change as a result of climate change. Milder winters and more precipitation in the form of snow in the mountains will increase snow density, also increasing the risk of grazing lands being iced over.  For wild reindeer, this means that some of their winter grazing grounds will deteriorate significantly.

Warmer summers will lead to increased melting of mountain glaciers. These are important areas where wild reindeer can cool down and seek refuge from insects in summer.  A reduction in mountain glaciers will therefore lead to increased disturbance and stress for wild reindeer.

Warmer summers will improve conditions for insects and other parasites that live on wild reindeer. In recent years, we have seen an increased incidence of disease in deer and musk oxen, due to insects or bacteria that reproduce faster in warmer, more humid climates. An example of this is the outbreak of pneumonia in the musk oxen in the Dovrefjell mountains. The National Veterinary Institute has concluded that the outbreak of pneumonia in musk oxen is the result of a particularly warm and humid summer, and that the problem may also affect wild reindeer:

Arctic species such as the musk ox and the wild reindeer have adapted to a very inhospitable environment - they live on the very edge of what is possible. Even minor changes in their living environment can lead to major changes in these animals’ ability to survive. What is happening now, with the greater incidence of disease in these species as the climate gets warmer, may also give an indication of what may happen to the balance between disease and survival in other species. In this context, the well-monitored population of musk oxen in the Dovrefjell mountains provides a model for observing how climate change affects animals that have adapted to a cold climate.

Wild reindeer and climate change
In an article in Villreinen 2008, Olav Strand, a researcher at the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, made the following presentation of how future climate change can affect wild reindeer in Norway:

If future climate change leads to deterioration in grazing grounds, we can conclude that it will become more necessary for wild reindeer to move between different grazing grounds and other functional areas. This means that the wild reindeer migration corridors will be particularly important in the future.

A musk ox panting in the summer heat. Watch a video at the National veterinary Institute’s website

A musk ox panting in the summer heat. Watch a video at the National veterinary Institute’s website