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Environmental change and long-term body mass declines in an alpine mammal

Mason, T.H.E.; Apollonio, M.; Chirichella, R.; Willis, S.G.; Stephens, P.A

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T.H.E. Mason

M. Apollonio

R. Chirichella


IntroductionClimate and environmental change have driven widespread changes in body size, particularly declines, across a range of taxonomic groups in recent decades. Size declines could substantially impact on the functioning of ecosystems. To date, most studies suggest that temporal trends in size have resulted indirectly from climate change modifying resource availability and quality, affecting the ability of individuals to acquire resources and grow.ResultsHere, we investigate striking long-term body mass declines in juvenile Alpine chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra), within three neighbouring populations in the Italian Alps. We find strong evidence that increasing population density and warming temperatures during spring and summer are linked to the mass declines. We find no evidence that the timing or productivity of resources have been altered during this period.ConclusionsWe conclude that it is unlikely that environmental change has driven body size change indirectly via effects on resource productivity or phenology. Instead, we propose that environmental change has limited the ability of individuals to acquire resources. This could be due to increases in the intensity of competition and decreases in time spent foraging, owing to high temperatures. Our findings add weight to a growing body of evidence for long-term body size reductions and provide considerable insight into the potential drivers of such trends. Furthermore, we highlight the potential for appropriate management, for instance increases in harvest size, to counteract the impacts of climate change on body mass.


Mason, T., Apollonio, M., Chirichella, R., Willis, S., & Stephens, P. (2014). Environmental change and long-term body mass declines in an alpine mammal. Frontiers in Zoology, 11, Article 69.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Sep 27, 2014
Deposit Date May 22, 2014
Publicly Available Date Oct 1, 2014
Journal Frontiers in Zoology
Publisher BioMed Central
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 11
Article Number 69
Keywords Body size, Body mass, Chamois, Climate change, Environmental change, Hunting, NDVI, Population density, Temperature, Ungulate.


Accepted Journal Article (442 Kb)

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Copyright Statement
© Mason et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

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