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Climate Change Takes Its Toll on Baby Deer in France

New research indicates that roe deer are having a hard time adapting to a slowly warming environment.
Image: Baby deer
Climate change is being blamed for a lower probability of survival for baby roe deer in France.Gilles Bourgoin

Will a warming world eventually kill off roe deer in France?

That question is being raised in light of new research indicating that the animals are having a hard time adapting to climate change.

In a study published Tuesday in the open-access journal PLOS Biology, researchers tracked the births and subsequent survival of roe deer fawns in France's Champagne region.

They noted that spring vegetation on which the adult deer depend for food was starting to flourish two weeks earlier that it did nearly three decades ago, due to gradual warming. But although spring was arriving earlier, the animals' birth season stayed the same, failing to keep pace with the changing temperatures.

Climate change is being blamed for a lower probability of survival for baby roe deer in France.Gilles Bourgoin

The result: More fawns died, probably because the mothers had a harder time finding the food they needed at the time they needed it to provide their babies with milk.

"Our study provides an illustration of the probable fitness costs for species which do not respond to climate change," the researchers wrote.

Study co-author Jean-Michel Gaillard, a biologist at the University Claude Bernard Lyon 1 in France, told The Verge: "We are confident that climate change, via earlier onset of vegetation flush in temperate forests, is the culprit of the increased fawn mortality in recent years."

Overall, roe deer numbers in France are still increasing, just at a much slower pace. The worry is that the population will start to decline if climate change continues though the coming decades, Gaillard told The Verge.

In a companion letter published in PLOS Biology, science writer Jonathan Chase questioned whether roe deer will be able to survive in a warming world.

The researchers "provide evidence to suggest that, at least for the roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) of France's Champagne region, climate change is not simply a minor inconvenience to overcome but rather a fundamental impediment to population growth that could portend eventual catastrophe," he wrote.