Bison sizes linked to climate change: Study

A new study, conducted by researchers from the Kansas State University has linked the effects of climate change to yet another animal species - the bison.

According to the study, bison sizes are getting smaller as a result of the climate change, particularly the rise in temperatures.

"Bison are one of our most important conservation animals and hold a unique role in grasslands in North America," research assistant professor at the Division of Biology, Kansas State University, Joseph Craine said.

"In addition to their cultural and ecological significance, they're economically important both from a livestock perspective and from a tourism perspective. There are about half a million bison in the world."

For this study, 22 bison herds throughout the US were evaluated for their weight, age and sex, by the university's Konza Prairie Biological Station and other non-profit commercial entities.

Evaluating the data, Craine speculated that the bison sizes may turn considerably smaller in the next 50 years, and they may also weigh less. This may be due to the climate change, which affects the quality of grasses these bisons live on, causing them to grow more slowly, and thus causing a decrease in the size of these bisons.

"We know that temperatures are going to go up," Craine said. "We also know that warmer grasslands have grasses with less protein, and we now know that warmer grasslands have smaller grazers. It all lines up to suggest that climate change will cause grasses to have less protein and cause grazers to gain less weight in the future."

Comparing the bison in cooler and warmer climates, Craine found that an average 7 year old male bison had different weights in both the climates; the bison in cooler climate weighed around 1,900 pounds, whereas another, in a warmer climate, weighed just 1,300 pounds.

"That's a pretty extreme difference and beyond the worst-case scenario. But it is a clear indicator that long-term warming will affect bison and is something that will happen across the U.S. over the next 50-75 year," Craine added, emphasizing on the seriousness of the situation.

This reduce could also cause a rough estimate of $1 billion loss in income for cattle owners, according to Craine, leaving out the additional costs of protein supplements that the bison may require to develop well.

This is not the first time that the ill-effects of climate change on animal life has been brought to light; many other studies also confirm how fluctuating temperatures have caused irreversible damage to the life on earth.

This study is now published in the journal PLOS ONE.

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