Climate Change Taking Black Sheep Out of the Picture

soay sheep hill photo

Photo via NickStenning via Flickr CC

Scotland's sheep aren't having the best time with climate change. Earlier this month we brought news that global warming was having a shrinking effect on the Soay sheep of Scotland. Today we hear it's also making them lighter. Discovery News reports that warming temperatures over the past 20 years on the Scottish St. Kilda islands is causing the darker colored Soay sheep to disappear.

The sheep also appear to be a color-indicator for climate change. The number of dark-colored sheep declined steadily, from nearly 80 percent of the herds to less than 70 percent, according to a new analysis. The decline followed in near lock step with a 1.2 degree Centigrade (2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) rise in winter temperatures from 1985 until 2005.

The logic goes that darker wool is better suited for getting through cold winters, and with warmer winters, darker wool isn't really as necessary. Jake Gratten of the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom poses an explanation other than warming temperatures, putting out a study that dark sheep with only one gene for dark color were better survivors than those that had two genes for dark color, even though both had the same color wool.

Check out Discovery News coverage for more details.

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