Boffins who stare at goats: I do believe they’re shrinking

Alpine chamois being squashed by global warming

Climate change may be causing alpine goats to shrink in size, according to biologists at Durham University.

Researchers analysed records of alpine animal sizes to discover that Chamois goats now weigh 25 per cent less than they did back in the '80s.

Dr Tom Mason from 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 decline in size was linked to the warming climate in the region, which saw temperatures soar by three to four degrees celsius.

Other studies have suggested that the shrinking goats were actually getting smaller due to the dwindling availability of food. Dr Stephen Willis, who co-authored a report on the results, 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."

Sadly, the fate of the Chamois now looks unclear.

Dr Philip Stephens, another co-author on the study, 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 is published in Frontiers in Zoology. ®

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