Climate change reduces reproductive success of an Arctic herbivore through trophic mismatch

Eric Post, Mads C. Forchhammer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

472 Scopus citations


In highly seasonal environments, offspring production by vertebrates is timed to coincide with the annual peak of resource availability. For herbivores, this resource peak is represented by the annual onset and progression of the plant growth season. As plant phenology advances in response to climatic warming, there is potential for development of a mismatch between the peak of resource demands by reproducing herbivores and the peak of resource availability. For migratory herbivores, such as caribou, development of a trophic mismatch is particularly likely because the timing of their seasonal migration to summer ranges, where calves are born, is cued by changes in day length, while onset of the plant-growing season on the same ranges is cued by local temperatures. Using data collected since 1993 on timing of calving by caribou and timing of plant growth in West Greenland, we document the consequences for reproductive success of a developing trophic mismatch between caribou and their forage plants. As mean spring temperatures at our study site have risen by more than 4°C, caribou have not kept pace with advancement of the plant-growing season on their calving range. As a consequence, offspring mortality has risen and offspring production has dropped fourfold.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2369-2373
Number of pages5
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1501
StatePublished - Jul 12 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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