Effects of global warming on polar bears
Ovsyanikov, Nikita G. Wrangel Island State Nature Reserve, Chukotskyi, Russia; Severtsov’s Institute of Problems of Ecology and Evolution, Russian Academy of Sciences, Russia.
- Changes in population processes
- Food resources available on land
- Population responds to global warming
- Perspectives for survival
- Links to Primary Literature
- Additional Readings
The polar bear is the only species of terrestrial mammal so highly adapted to living on drifting pack ice of the Arctic Ocean that its entire life cycle can be fully completed without coming ashore. Only pregnant females need solid ground for setting their maternity dens; however, even these females are known to den on the sea ice in some regions. The polar bear is also a top predator in the Arctic marine environment and a specialized hunter on pagophilic (ice-loving) seals. Because Arctic sea ice is the prime habitat of the polar bear, it is logical to expect that ice disappearance will strongly affect this animal. If global warming continues to progress, perspectives for polar bear survival may look dim; under the worst scenario, the species may disappear. However, to investigate the polar bear's future, it is necessary to consider all factors involved and all opportunities for the species' struggle for survival. Before a judgment can be made, several questions need to be answered: How long will the current global warming continue? Will this warming period be so strong that the sea ice melts completely? Will the Arctic Ocean be ice-free year-round, or only seasonally? How long can polar bears survive ice-free seasons? Can they survive as a species if the ice is gone year-round?
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