Why Are Reindeer Eating Seaweeds?

Believe it or not, it’s not just humans that are affected by climate change and the adverse effects of global warming. All other living creatures including animals are also gravely affected.

This can be directly observed in the Svalbard reindeer, which, according to researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s Centre for Biodiversity Dynamic, have started turning to seaweeds for food. The reason? The plants that fill up their usual diet is either slowly running out or becoming harder to get to.

Named after the group of Norwegian islands where they’ve been living for the last 5,000 years, these reindeer have coped with the changing weather by adjusting their diet. That’s because due to climate change, the planet has started warming up more, leading to the Arctic winters seeing longer open water spells and less sea ice. This results to more rain than snow to surrounding islands and areas, directly affecting the wildlife residing in it.

Usually, these Svalbard reindeer feed on the Tundra vegetation on the island. But lately, more rain is falling instead of snow and this causes the snow on the ground to freeze over, burying their usual food source under ice.

A change in behavior

The researchers first noticed the change when the animals, who usually stay inland to feed on vegetation, started gathering on the shoreline. The team then studied the reindeer after suspecting that this change in their behavior might be because they have started eating seaweeds.

This caused the team to worry for the future of the reinder. In addition to kelp being not that nutritious, it’s also giving the reindeer diarrhea. There’s also the problem of predators like hungry polar bears that might attack them from the shoreline.

Sadly, not much can be done to help the reindeer at the moment except to help lessen the effects of global warming or mitigate climate change.