Scientists have discovered that mountain goats are being forced to adopt a more nocturnal lifestyle due to global warming, which may make them more vulnerable to predators.
The activity of the Alpine ibex, a type of mountain goat, was tracked by researchers from the University of Sassari in Sardinia using GPS collars with motion sensors. The tracking took place between May and October every year from 2006 to 2019.
On days with higher temperatures, researchers discovered that a species typically active during the day showed increased nocturnal activity.
A study was conducted to compare the night-time behavior of ibex in two national parks in Europe. The results showed that ibex were more active at night in areas with a higher number of predators, indicating that their desire to escape heat was greater than their fear of predators.
Dr. Francesca Brivio and colleagues from the University of Ferrara conducted a study on nocturnal activity in Switzerland, where wolves, one of the main predators, are absent. They expected to find higher levels of activity, but instead discovered that areas with wolves actually had higher levels of activity.
Together with the results of other studies, this research provides evidence to support the idea that many mammals may increase their nocturnal activity as a way to cope with the effects of rising temperatures due to climate change.
According to Brivio, it is likely that animals will adjust their behavior to be more active at night due to lower temperatures. If it is too hot during the day to eat or be active, they will choose to do activities such as foraging at night instead.
Increased levels of nighttime activity in Alpine ibex may impact the population dynamics of the animal.
Brivio said: “As they are animals adapted to diurnal activity, being active during the night is probably harder. Their movement in the rocky slopes where they live is probably more difficult, which could make the foraging efficiencies and foraging strategies less efficient. Although we did not collect data on this, we can conjecture that their capacity to acquire food will be lower [during the night] and this will have consequences on fitness and population dynamics.
Changing their behavior to be more active at night will also result in more interaction with predators during the night, which will in turn affect the population’s fluctuations.
Animals may exhibit heightened nocturnal activity in response to the heat stress brought on by global warming, which could potentially impact how they are documented in the coming years.
“Typically, census procedures involve observing animals directly during the daytime…However, in the future, animals may become more active at night…Therefore, alternative methods will need to be utilized for counting.”