Despite the growth in knowledge about the effects of a warming Arctic on its cold-adapted species, the mechanisms by which these changes affect animal populations remain poorly understood. Increasing temperatures, declining sea ice and altered wind and precipitation patterns all may affect the fitness and abundance of species through multiple direct and indirect pathways. Here we demonstrate previously unknown effects of rain-on-snow (ROS) events, winter precipitation, and ice tidal surges on the Arctic's largest land mammal. Using novel field data across seven years and three Alaskan and Russian sites, we show arrested skeletal growth in juvenile muskoxen resulting from unusually dry winter conditions and gestational ROS events, with the inhibitory effects on growth from ROS events lasting up to three years post-partum. Further, we describe the simultaneous entombment of 52 muskoxen in ice during a Chukchi Sea winter tsunami (ivuniq in Iñupiat), and link rapid freezing to entrapment of Arctic whales and otters. Our results illustrate how once unusual, but increasingly frequent Arctic weather events affect some cold-adapted mammals, and suggest that an understanding of species responses to a changing Arctic can be enhanced by coalescing groundwork, rare events, and insights from local people.
We studied geographical and temporal body size trends among 169 adult museum specimens of the Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra) collected in Sweden between 1962 and 2008, whose sex, year of collection, and locality were known. Skull size and body mass increased significantly in relation to the year of collection, and skull size (but not body mass) was significantly and negatively related to latitude, contrasting Bergmann's rule and the trend found for Norwegian otters. Latitudinal differences in body size between the two countries may be due to differences in food availability. The temporal increase in body size among Swedish otters resembled that observed for Norway otters, though Swedish otters are smaller with respect to their Norwegian counterparts. Latitude and year represent a combination of environmental factors, including ambient temperature in the year of collection as well as the number of days of ice coverage. We replaced the above factors with mean annual temperature or the number of days of ice coverage, and found that each of these factors explains a similar proportion of the variation in body size as did latitude and year. We hypothesize that this temporal increase in body size is related to a combination of factors, including reduced energy expenditure resulting from increasing ambient temperature, and increased food availability from longer ice-free periods.