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European springtime temperature synchronises ibex horn growth across the eastern Swiss Alps

Formally Refereed
Authors: Ulf Büntgen, Andrew Liebhold, Hannes Jenny, Atle Mysterud, Simon Egli, Daniel Nievergelt, Nils C. Stenseth, Kurt Bollmann
Year: 2014
Type: Scientific Journal
Station: Northern Research Station
Source: Ecology Letters


Direct effects of climate change on animal physiology, and indirect impacts from disruption of seasonal synchrony and breakdown of trophic interactions are particularly severe in Arctic and Alpine ecosystems. Unravelling biotic from abiotic drivers, however, remains challenging because high-resolution animal population data are often limited in space and time. Here, we show that variation in annual horn growth (an indirect proxy for individual performance) of 8043 male Alpine ibex (Capra ibex) over the past four decades is well synchronised among eight disjunct colonies in the eastern Swiss Alps. Elevated March to May temperatures, causing premature melting of Alpine snowcover, earlier plant phenology and subsequent improvement of ibex food resources, fuelled annual horn growth. These results reveal dependency of local trophic interactions on large-scale climate dynamics, and provide evidence that declining herbivore performance is not a universal response to global warming even for high-altitude populations that are also harvested.


Alpine ungulates, body size, climate change, ecological response, European Alps, horn growth, phenotypic plasticity, plant phenology, spatial synchrony, trophic interaction


B ntgen, Ulf; Liebhold, Andrew; Jenny, Hannes; Mysterud, Atle; Egli, Simon; Nievergelt, Daniel; Stenseth, Nils C.; Bollmann, Kurt. 2014. European springtime temperature synchronises ibex horn growth across the eastern Swiss Alps. Ecology Letters. 17(3): 303-313.