Climate change may be shrinking goats ... and could lead to less bacon


The effects of climate change on goats could lead to a bacon shortage in the future.

Wild mountain goats in Italy are shrinking due to global warming, scientists have found. They weigh, on average, 25 percent less than they did as recently as 30 years ago.

The goats have shrunk as average temperatures have risen from 5 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the results of a study published in the science journal Frontiers in Zoology.

A number of animals have gotten smaller as the climate has warmed, but the change is most pronounced in the mountain goats roaming the Italian Alps, researchers found.

Scientist Stephen Willis, the lead author of the study, admitted he and colleagues "don't know enough about how extreme climate might affect the population of this species" and also did not expect such a drastic change in a short period of time.

The study was conducted by weighing goat yearling carcasses collected by hunters starting in the 1980s.

They chose yearlings to make sure all samples were the same age and began searching for causation when they observed the shrinking animals.

The food supply has not dropped in the Alps as it has in other places, the scientists found.

Willis and his team believe the goats are too hot to eat and spend more time resting in that heat, causing them to not eat as often.

"It's been known that these animals spend more time resting when it's hot, so that led to the idea that maybe it's the climate directly that is changing their behavior, rather than the indirect means of affecting their food," wrote Willis.

The less the goats eat, the less they grow. The smaller the animals remain, the more able they are to handle higher temperatures.

Another theory has also been floated, according to National Geographic.

The goat population in the area has exploded as a result of hunting restrictions. More goats competing for food means less food to eat.

An expert who spoke to National Geographic cautioned that if goats are shrinking due to climate change that this could foretell an effect on the world's food supply in decades to come.

"If climate change results in similar behavioral and body mass changes in domestic livestock, this could have impacts on agricultural productivity in coming decades," said Clifford Rice, a wildlife biologist with Washington State's Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Farm animals, including pigs, that eat less produce less meat –- and bacon.

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