Climate Change Causing Soay Sheep to Shrink. No It's Not. Yah-huh! Nuh-uh! Well Maybe.

soay sheep herd photo

Photo via Sam W via Flickr CC

A little less than a year ago, we reported about the findings that global warming is causing the Soay sheep of Scotland to shrink and get lighter in color, all to adapt to higher temperatures. However, it turns out that chalking the changes up to global warming is causing quite a ruckus among climate scientists.
The Telegraph reports that while the theory was caught up by the public when it came out, scientists are saying there's no firm evidence of the tie between hotter temperatures and tinier sheep. The debate is stirred up after (groan) "climategate" hit the wires, and now (no joke) we may have "sheepgate."

"In the latest row, which could become known as 'sheepgate', scientists in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters are questioning the theory that climate change causes sheep to change size and colour. Dr Jake Gratten at the University of Sheffield said the darker, larger sheep have a different genetic make up that is more likely to be causing numbers to decrease than any environmental factor."

Gratten states, "Given the scrutiny that climate change science is currently under, attributing biological changes to global warming should surely require the highest standards of proof. In this case, there is no evidence that warming climate is responsible for the decline in frequency of dark Soay sheep on St Kilda."

The author of the study, Dr Shane Maloney at the University of Western Australia, begs to differ, saying that genetic makeup could be an explanation for the change in numbers, but so too could climate change. While some scientists call for firm evidence of any links between global warming and its impacts, Maloney says that there should be no hindering the free flow of ideas and theories since that's how we arrive at answers.

It's no wonder that many scientists are wary to accept theories or reach for links between higher global temperatures and the reaction of the planet's flora and fauna to those temperature shifts. And it may be the case that higher temperatures have nothing to do with the noted changes in Soay sheep after all. However, it doesn't make sense to hide from global warming as a possible reason for many of the changes in earth's ecosystems today.

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