Greenland polar bear population has been isolated for hundreds of years

Image of a polar bear on floating ice

Enlarge (credit: Paul Souders)

In the southeast corner of Greenland, scientists have discovered an unexpected population of polar bears. This population has developed distinct habits to survive in its odd—as far as polar bears are concerned—habitat, and the bears’ genomes are quite different from many of their kin. Beyond the novelty these animals represent, they could also help inform scientists about how more traditional bears will fare in a warming Arctic, according to new research.

Several things set this group of bears apart. For much of the year, they survive by hunting from ice that falls into the ocean after breaking off a Greenland glacier; the ice floats in the fjords these bears call home. This is unlike most other populations of polar bears, which require sea ice for hunting. According to the World Wildlife Fund, between 22,000 and 31,000 polar bears are left in the world.

The research team used seven years of data collected in the region, along with 30 years of historic data. For the new data, the team connected with local hunters and used tissue samples taken from the hunters’ kills to sequence the bears’ genomes. They also used fieldwork, satellite data—which also allowed them to study the geographical and sea ice conditions of the region—and tracking collars to get a sense of the bears’ movements.

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#arctic, #climate-change, #isolated-populations, #polar-bears, #science, #sea-ice

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Climate change is shifting polar bears’ Arctic menu, research shows

Polar bear (<em>Ursus maritimus</em>) standing upright on fjord ice at Sabinebukta Bay at Irminger Point on a summer morning.

Enlarge / Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) standing upright on fjord ice at Sabinebukta Bay at Irminger Point on a summer morning. (credit: Paul Souders / Getty Images)

The Arctic is warming three times faster than the rest of the world. Because of that warming, some organisms are adapting by shifting their natural stomping grounds, and the region is seeing some species move in as they follow the warmth north and stick around there for longer.

As such, the menu for polar bears is changing, according to a recently published paper. The research also suggests that studying fat tissue from polar bears—which can shed light on what prey they’ve been consuming—can be a useful tool in monitoring how species distribution in the Arctic is changing as temperatures increase and ice melts.

“The Arctic is changing. It is changing at a very rapid pace, especially in comparison to really any other region of the world. Temperatures are warming faster,” Melissa Galicia, a PhD candidate in York University’s department of biology and one of the authors of the paper, told Ars. “The ice is declining. Sea ice is becoming more fragmented. The water temperatures are warming. You’re getting an ecosystem that is changing rapidly, and all of the species within that ecosystem also need to adapt.”

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#arctic, #bears, #climate-change, #polar-bears, #science

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#arctic-regions, #environment, #global-warming, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #nature-climate-change-journal, #polar-bears, #research

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#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #germany, #polar-bears, #zoos