Life for animals living in the unforgiving conditions of the Arctic is precarious balancing act – from unseasonable warm springs to plunging autumnal temperatures, annual variations inform animals when to migrate, mate, search for food. Significant shifts of even days can consequently have profound impacts on these animals and their environment.

These seasonal timing changes are becoming ever-more pronounced, research co-funded by the NASA Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE) has warned.

More and more, the ecosystem that should be tightly coordinated is getting out of whack

Professor Gil Bohrer

Scientists studied Arctic Animal Movement Archive (AAMA), data, which has tracked nearly a hundred species from 1991 to the present day.

This information was then cross-referenced with NASA temperature, rainfall, snowfall, and topographic data.

The worrying results revealed Arctic animals’ movement patterns are shifting in ways set to disrupt entire ecosystems.

Professor Gil Bohrer, an Ohio State University environmental engineer, said: “The Arctic is showing more extreme indications of climate change.

“Arctic animals are responding to these changes, they’re responding quickly, and that response is not equal.”

Indications the Arctic climate really is transforming include sea ice shrinkage, altering amounts rainfall and snowfall and Arctic tundra even turning vivid shades of green.

The team focused on examining eagle migrations, caribou populations and a multi-species study focusing on several predator and prey species.

The eagle study saw researchers analyse when eagles left their wintering grounds to fly north for the summer, based on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data collected over a decade.

On average, migration started about half a day earlier each year – a change that compounded over 25 years to exhibit a shift of almost two weeks.

Professor Bohrer said: “Basically, climate change is rushing them to go north early.”

Caribou typically mate in the autumn, are pregnant in the winter, and raise their young in the spring when food is abundant.

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However, researchers analysing five caribou populations discovered populations living in the northern Arctic – where things are shifting most rapidly – were having offspring earlier to coincide with the changes in their environment, indicating populations are adapting to climate change.

However, the southern caribou populations experiencing less rapid environmental changes had offspring at their usual time.

Finally, the researchers used the AAMA database to learn how various predator and prey species, including black bears, grizzly bears, moose and wolves – are affected by higher temperatures and increased rainfall.

They found some species move more when summer temperatures are higher while others move less, moose and wolves move less in winters with higher snowfalls, and increased rainfall did not apparently alter species’ movement patterns.

In summary, predator species seemed to respond to climate change differently than prey species.

Professor Bohrer added: “More and more, the ecosystem that should be tightly coordinated is getting out of whack.”

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