Red deers are evolving to give birth earlier because of warming climate

Female deers that gave birth earlier increase their chances of reproductive success they also have more babies.


Red deers have been giving birth to their young ones earlier than the generations of deers before them. Researchers have found that it might be linked to the warming climate and changes in their genes.

The herd of deers living on the Island of Rum, Scotland, have been studied by a team of researchers from the Australian National University, the University of St Andrews and the University of Cambridge. This long term study looked at data from previous studies, field records and genetic data that has been collected on the Rum deers since 1972.

Female deers or hinds reach a period of sexual maturity at the age of two and carry their young ones for seven months. They usually give birth to one fawn per year. Through this study, the team found out that hinds are giving birth to their young ones three days earlier, every 10 years, since the 1980s.

Red deers are evolving to give birth earlier because of warming climate

Female red deer reach sexual maturity at 2 years of age. Image credit: Wikipedia

This is happening because of two reasons — one, the hinds are trying to adapt to the warmer climates which are affecting their behaviour and psychology. Two, the female deer's genes are changing and evolving to adapt and because of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Female deers that gave birth earlier increase their chances of reproductive success (which means that they have a successful birth and their child also gives birth successfully) and these hinds also tend to have more offsprings in their entire lifetimes. As a result, the red deer's genes for breeding have evolved into giving birth earlier.

This is the first time that researchers have been able to watch and document the genetic changes in an animal group because they usually take place over a long time.

Dr Timothée Bonnet, lead author of the study from the Australian National University said in a press release, "This is one of the few cases where we have documented evolution in action, showing that it may help populations adapt to climate warming."

A young red deer out in the wild. Image credit: Wikipedia

A young red deer out in the wild. Image credit: Wikipedia

Sally Thomas, Director of the Scottish Natural Heritage that manages the island said, "These findings are a fascinating example of the impact climate change may be having on wildlife. More and more research is demonstrating climate change is influencing species across the UK and the world."

The findings from this study have been published in the journal PLOS.

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