It looks like at least one species is benefiting from a warmer Arctic: mosquitoes. But there’s a problem with that, researchers said on Tuesday, because the blood-sucking insects are growing too fast and abundant and pestering caribou, forcing the animal out of areas that are fertile with their ideal food.
"In response to biting insects, caribou have been observed to run to the top of a windy ridge where there are fewer mosquitoes but their food may be of lower quality," ecologist Lauren Culler of Dartmouth College's Institute of Arctic Studies told Reuters.
Dr. Culler led the study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
"In addition,” Culler said, “more adults flying around in search of blood would increase the intensity of insect harassment."
After studying mosquitos in ponds near Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, researchers estimated that if Arctic temperatures rise by 3.6 degrees – which is in the middle of the range of the United Nation’s panel on Arctic warming's predictions – mosquitoes would be 53 percent more likely to grow to adulthood.
This means more swarms pestering people and wildlife.
Warmer weather allows Arctic mosquitos to grow more quickly in shallow ponds formed in spring by snowmelt on the tundra. Since they mature faster, they're able to leave their childhood homes earlier, thereby eluding their natural predator, the diving beetle, and going on in greater numbers to adulthood to feed on the blood of people and animals like caribou.
Caribou calves are particularly vulnerable, the researchers said, because warmer weather synchronizes their birth with mosquito development, providing a large, immobile bounty of blood to reproductive mosquitoes. Female mosquitoes are the ones that bite because they need blood to produce eggs.
"Warming in the Arctic can thus challenge the sustainability of wild caribou and managed reindeer in Fennoscandia (Norway, Sweden, Finland and parts of northwest Russia), which are an important subsistence resource for local communities," said Culler in a research announcement.
This report contains material from Reuters.