Climate change good news for Arctic mosquitoes, bad news for caribou

A study from New Hampshire's Dartmouth college says climate change is causing mosquitoes in the Arctic to develop faster, and that is bad news for caribou.

‘Caribou are spending more time running away from insects . . . less time eating,’ study says

'More mosquitoes is not necessary good news for the caribou,' says researcher Lauren Culler, who recently published a study that found climate change could force caribou to spend more time trying to avoid insects and less time feeding. (Danny O'Donnell)

A new study from New Hampshire's Dartmouth College says climate change is causing mosquitoes in the Arctic to develop faster, and that is bad news for caribou.

"More mosquitoes is not necessarily good news for the caribou," says Lauren Culler, the study's author. "In response to insect harassment, caribou spend a lot of time running around seeking insect free areas. So they'll run to the top of a windy ridge or run into a snow patch where they can avoid being bitten by mosquitoes or other biting insects."

All these attempts to avoid mosquitoes are stopping caribou from feeding properly, says the study published by The Royal Society.

'When caribou are spending more time running away from insects, they're spending less time eating high quality food,' says Culler. (Lauren Culler)

"When caribou are spending more time running away from insects they're spending less time eating high quality food and that food is really important for their ability to successfully raise their calves," says Culler.

The study predicts that mosquitoes' survival rates to adult stage will more than double if Arctic temperatures rise by two degrees.

"The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world," says Culler, "It's predicted to warm more rapidly than the rest of the world."

'Every extra day that they spend in the larva is another day that they face the threat of predation,' says Culler, 'So being able to emerge more quickly actually increases the probability that they will survive.' (Lauren Culler)
This rapid temperature increase means a longer life cycle for mosquitoes, according to the study. Usually mosquitoes would take up to three weeks to develop but warmer Arctic climates have resulted in the insects developing in fewer than 20 days, says Culler.

"Every extra day that they spend in the larva is another day that they face the threat of predation," says Culler. "Being able to emerge more quickly actually increases the probability that they will survive."

Although mosquitoes are a nuisance to caribou, they do play an important role in the Arctic's ecosystem, explains Culler, "We know that they are food for birds, and we also know that they're really important as pollinators of certain Arctic plants."

Researchers say much more study is needed to gain a fuller understanding of the impacts of climate change in the Arctic on various plant and animal species.

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