Global Warming Shrinking Sheep

Warmer winters make evolutionary drive to grow do a U-turn
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 3, 2009 8:19 AM CDT
The wild Soay sheep on an island in the Outer Hebrides have been getting smaller as generations go by. Their legs are now a full 5% shorter than they were 25 years ago.   (Flickr)
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(Newser) – Add it to the list of weird things blamed on climate change: smaller sheep. Scientists say Scotland's warmer winters explain why a wild herd on an uninhabited northern island are a full 5% smaller than they were in the '80s, the BBC reports. The theory says that only big sheep survived years ago because they had enough fat to survive the winter. Now that grass is available nearly all the time, even the little guys are passing their genes along.

Wild sheep generally get bigger through the generations, but the milder temperatures create a "paradoxical decrease in size," report the researchers in Science. "The next step is to extend our description of past change into a predictive model," the lead researcher said. "But it's too early to say if, in 100 years, we will have chihuahuas herding pocket-sized sheep."