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Reindeer shrink as climate change in Arctic puts their food on ice

Reindeer are shrinking on an Arctic island near the north pole as a result of climate change that has curbed the amount of winter food available to the animals, scientists said on Monday.

The average weight of adult reindeer on Svalbard, a chain of islands north of Norway, fell from 55kg (121lb) to 48kg (106lb) in the 1990s as part of sweeping changes to Arctic life while temperatures rose, they said.

“Warmer summers are great for reindeer but winters are getting increasingly tough,” Professor Steve Albon, an ecologist at the James Hutton Institute in Scotland who led the study with Norwegian researchers, said.

Less-chilly winters mean that once-reliable snows fall more often as rain that can freeze into a sheet of ice, making it harder for the herbivores to reach plant food. Some reindeer starve and females often give birth to stunted young.

In summer, however, plants flourish in a food bonanza that ensures healthy females more likely to conceive in autumn. The wild herd studied had expanded to about 1,400 animals from 800 since the 1990s.

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