Climate rhythm shift brings early calving

The Chillingham cattle are said to be the only survivors of the wild herds which once roamed freely through the forests of Great Britain. Credit: Sarah Burthe

The Chillingham cattle are said to be the only survivors of the wild herds which once roamed freely through the forests of Great Britain. Credit: Sarah Burthe

Climate change has caused more of the British wild cattle of Chillingham to be born in winter, when the chance they will survive to reach a year old is lowest. The cattle, which have lived on a 365 acre park since the 13th century, show that climate’s influence on biological event timing could be greater than realised. “The proportion of births in winter was correlated with the timing of the start of the plant growing season in the previous spring, when winter born calves would have been conceived,” explained Sarah Burthe from the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. “More calves were born in winter when the plant growing season started early in the previous spring. Although more births are happening now in the winter than they were 60 years ago, winter-born calves do not do very well relative to calves that are born during summer and are more likely to die before they reach the age of one.”

Though Burthe is currently getting up a 3.30am to study birds on the Isle of May in Scotland, the Chillingham cattle’s unique story made studying the recent climate’s impact on them less gruelling for her. As well as reputedly being the only survivors of wild herds that once roamed the land, thanks partly to the encouragement of Charles Darwin information has been collected about them since 1860. The data Burthe and her colleagues used runs back from the modern herd, which numbered 93 cattle in December, to the unusually cold winter of 1947, which only 13 cattle survived. “This study would not have been possible without the amazing data collected by the Chillingham wild cattle association since 1947,” she said. Read the rest of this entry »

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