Rudolph and pals combat climate change

Researchers have found grazing by reindeer herds in the Arctic tundra can have a cooling effect on the climate
Researchers have found grazing by reindeer herds in the Arctic tundra can have a cooling effect on the climate
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Rudolph, Dasher, Dancer and the team may have an important role to play in saving the planet on the 364 days when they are not pulling Santa’s sleigh, according to international scientists.

Researchers in Sweden have found that the effect of reindeer grazing on Arctic tundra could slow global warming.

The study was carried out in the Troms region, in the far north of Norway, where there are large populations of wild and domesticated reindeer.

Results show the cropping of vegetation by wandering herds has an impact on the amount of the sun’s radiation that is reflected off the earth and back into space – known as albedo.

Heavy grazing by the deer reduces the height and coverage of plants on the tundra, resulting in an increase in the amount of radiation reflected.

This has a cooling effect on the climate.

“Our theory was that heavy grazing by reindeer increases summer albedo, through a reduction in shrub height, abundance and leaf area index,” said lead researcher Dr Mariska te Beest, from Sweden’s Umeå university.

“The effect reindeer grazing can have on albedo and energy balances is potentially large enough to be regionally important.

“It also points towards herbivore management being a possible tool to combat future warming.

“Most of the arctic tundra is grazed by either domesticated or wild reindeer, so this is an important finding.

“Of course, the impact the reindeer have will vary according to their densities and the subsequent effects on the vegetation levels across the whole tundra.”

Wild reindeer can travel more than 5,000km during their annual migration to the Arctic – an epic feat that takes them further than any other land mammal.

A warm, insulating coat and large hooves are vital to their survival in the extreme cold and snow of the polar region.

Reindeer, known as caribou in North America, are the only deer where both sexes sport antlers. The most spectacular are grown by males.

Dr te Beest added: “Our results show that reindeer have a potential cooling effect on climate, by changing the summer albedo.

“Although the estimated differences might appear small, they are large enough to have consequences for the regional energy balance.”

The Cairngorms are home to the UK’s only free-ranging reindeer herd.