Sleigh Bells and Seaweed

Christmas came and went – and so did the cookies you left for Santa! But what do reindeer eat offseason?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Climate change in the far north freezes Rudolph’s favorite plants. It also melts sea-ice bridges, preventing reindeer from foraging elsewhere! Yet, they seem to be doing OK. What gives? 

Brage Hansen of Norway University of Science and Technology and an international research team investigated.

How? By collecting poop from over one-hundred Norwegian reindeer. They analyzed carbon in the dung to see what reindeer eat during tough times. Different carbon types and amounts imply different plant-based diets.

Result? Hansen’s team found that the reindeer gave up their usual candy cane diets… for SEAWEED! Seaweed snacks help to top off reindeer tummies when land plants get too icy. Too much seems to make digestion… move a little faster, if you catch my snow-drift. 

Looks like climate change is altering reindeer diets, and moving their herds towards the shores!

But, rest easy! Those clever reindeer will still fly Santa around to deliver your presents next year. Sure!

Reference: Hansen, B. B.Lorentzen, J. R.Welker, J. M.Varpe, Ø.Aanes, R.Beumer, L. T., and Pedersen, Å. Ø.2019Reindeer turning maritime: Ice-locked tundra triggers changes in dietary niche utilizationEcosphere 104):e02672. 10.1002/ecs2.2672