The hypothesis that animal population dynamics may be synchronized by climate is highly relevant in the context of climate change because it suggests that several populations might respond simultaneously to climatic trends if their dynamics are entrained by environmental correlation. The dynamics of many species throughout the Northern Hemisphere are influenced by a single large-scale climate system, the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), which exerts highly correlated regional effects on local weather. But efforts to attribute synchronous fluctuations of contiguous populations to large-scale climate are confounded by the synchronizing influences of dispersal or trophic interactions. Here we report that the dynamics of caribou and musk oxen on opposite coasts of Greenland show spatial synchrony among populations of both species that correlates with the NAO index. Our analysis shows that the NAO has an influence in the high degree of cross-species synchrony between pairs of caribou and musk oxen populations separated by a minimum of 1,000 km of inland ice. The vast distances, and complete physical and ecological separation of these species, rule out spatial coupling by dispersal or interaction. These results indicate that animal populations of different species may respond synchronously to global climate change over large regions.
Comment In: Nature. 2004 Feb 19;427(6976):697-8; discussion 69814973473