Link Between Energy Levels and Breeding Timing in Arctic Hoofed Animals

Jim Crocker
18th March, 2024

Link Between Energy Levels and Breeding Timing in Arctic Hoofed Animals

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • In Norway, reindeer conception timing isn't strongly linked to body fat or weight
  • Environmental cues and brain mechanisms, not just energy, influence reproductive timing
  • This challenges the idea that climate-driven resource changes directly alter reproduction
Climate change has been altering the natural world in various ways, including the timing of key biological events such as when plants bloom or animals reproduce. This shift in timing, known as phenology, is crucial because it can affect how different species interact with each other and their environment. Scientists have been trying to understand how these changes will impact species' survival and ecosystems' health. A recent study from UiT The Arctic University of Norway[1] sheds new light on this issue by examining how the timing of reproduction in wild reindeer is influenced by their energy reserves, challenging previous assumptions about the relationship between an animal's body condition and its reproductive schedule. Prior research has shown that spring phenology, including leaf-out and flowering times, is highly sensitive to temperature variations and has been advancing due to climate change[2]. This advancement can disrupt the delicate balance of interactions between species, such as predation and pollination, since these activities are often timed to specific environmental cues. Additionally, the degree of variability in the timing of developmental stages within a population can structure ecological interactions and community processes[3]. Understanding these dynamics is crucial because seasonal variation in resource availability is a significant driver of natural selection, influencing the timing and duration of life-cycle events[4]. The study from UiT The Arctic University of Norway focuses on wild reindeer and investigates the link between their energy status—measured by body mass and adiposity (fat reserves)—and the timing of conception. Contrary to what might be expected, the researchers found that these energy indicators were not strong predictors of when reindeer conceive. This finding is significant because it suggests that the timing of reproduction may not be a direct response to changes in energy supply due to climate change. Instead, the study indicates that the relationship between energy supply and reproductive timing is more complex than previously thought. The researchers propose that environmental factors interact with the core control mechanisms within the brain, specifically the hypothalamus, which integrates information on nutritional status with the animal's internal life-history calendar. This integration process determines the timing of reproduction, rather than a simple direct response to energy availability. The implications of this research are profound. It suggests that the phenological plasticity of species—how flexible they are in adjusting their reproductive timing—is not merely a passive reaction to the availability of resources. Rather, it is an active process involving the animal's internal mechanisms responding to a variety of environmental cues. This new understanding challenges earlier findings that did not find evidence for changing variability in warmer years[2]. While previous studies have documented that the timing of key phenological events has become less variable over time, the current research underscores that the drivers of phenological shifts are more intricate than changes in temperature or resource availability alone. The investigation into the mechanisms that control seasonal timing in vertebrates, as reviewed in earlier work[4], is bolstered by the current study. It emphasizes the need for a multidisciplinary approach that combines ecological, evolutionary, and mechanistic perspectives to predict how organisms might alter their seasonal timing in response to their changing environments. By examining the weak coupling between energetic status and the phenology of reproduction in wild reindeer, the study from UiT The Arctic University of Norway contributes to a broader understanding of how climate change impacts species' reproductive strategies. It underscores the importance of considering the complex interplay of environmental factors and internal regulatory systems when studying the effects of climate change on wildlife and ecosystems. In summary, the research provides a nuanced perspective on the relationship between an animal's energy reserves and its reproductive timing. It highlights the importance of internal physiological mechanisms and suggests that animals may have a limited ability to adjust their reproductive schedules in response to the changing availability of resources driven by climate change. This insight expands our knowledge of animal resilience and adaptation and has significant implications for predicting the effects of ongoing environmental changes on wildlife populations.

EcologyAnimal ScienceEvolution


Main Study

1) Weak coupling between energetic status and the timing of reproduction in an Arctic ungulate.

Published 16th March, 2024

Related Studies

2) Disorder or a new order: How climate change affects phenological variability.

3) The role of timing in intraspecific trait ecology.

4) Vertebrate Phenological Plasticity: From Molecular Mechanisms to Ecological and Evolutionary Implications.

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