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These goats are so exhausted by heat that they’d rather risk the wolves at night, study shows

Climate change might be keeping some people awake at night — it turns out it’s the same for mountain goats.

Scientists in Italy have found rising temperatures are forcing mountain goats to live a more nocturnal lifestyle, making them more vulnerable to predators.

A team of researchers from the University of Sassari in Sardinia and the University of Ferrara in northern Italy followed the activity of 47 Alpine ibexes, a species of mountain goat, between the months of May and October for 14 years. Tracking their movements, they used motion sensor data from GPS collars worn by the goats and found the species — which is normally diurnal, meaning active by day — has become more nocturnal.

The change in behavior can be attributed to feeling increased “heat stress,” Francesca Brivio, one of the co-authors of the study, told CNN. While goats are typically diurnal, warmer temperatures during the day mean they have to expend more energy foraging for food. “This is also true for humans,” said Brivio, “[when] it is very hot, we stop working or we go inside home to avoid the sun.”

By foraging at night, they can preserve more energy — but this can also bring new risks.

The research, which was conducted in Italy’s Gran Paradiso National Park and Switzerland’s Swiss National Park, surprised scientists with one of its findings: They expected the species to be less active at night in areas where wolves, which are nocturnal predators, are active. But this wasn’t the case.

“We conjecture that for ibex, it is more important to avoid the heat stress rather than avoid predation risk,” Brivio said.

An Alpine ibex grazing on a foggy day in Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy. - Sergio Pitamitz/VWPics/Universal Images Group/Getty Images
An Alpine ibex grazing on a foggy day in Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy. - Sergio Pitamitz/VWPics/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Not only does moving in the dark make it harder for these daytime animals to detect predators with their limited vision, but the ibex live on rocky slopes, which make movement and foraging riskier during the night. The study suggests that these new behaviors could ultimately lead to reduced reproduction and survival rates.

“Habits can change,” said Brivio, “but at the moment, these findings seem to put ibex in some risk for the future.”

Their research is not the first to detect how animals are adapting their behavior to rising global temperatures. “With increasing global warming, these shifts from diurnal to nocturnal activity will be increased,” she said.

As global warming and human activity push some animals toward nocturnality, the authors of the study highlighted the urgency of changing current management and conservation practices.

For example, a census that counts the number of ibex in protected areas is done only at dusk and dawn, Brivio noted. This increased nighttime activity means new methodologies must be developed for park rangers to have an accurate assessment of the animal population. She says it might also be valuable to prevent tourists from visiting areas that the ibex critically need for foraging.

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