With Sea Ice Melting, Glacial Ice Could be a Lifeline for Polar Bears

Environmental News from America: 

  • Scientists recently discovered a new subpopulation of polar bears living in southeast Greenland that is genetically and behaviorally distinct.
  • While most polar bears depend upon sea ice for survival, the polar bears in Southeast Greenland use pieces of glacial ice as habitat and hunting platforms.
  • Large numbers of polar bears are expected to decline as climate change accelerates, but small populations may persist in places like this, where the pace of melting is expected to be slower, experts say.

When Kristin Laidre began working on a long-term project to study polar bears in eastern Greenland, she didn’t expect to find a new subpopulation of the species — and she certainly didn’t expect to find the most genetically isolated polar bears on the planet.

There are 19 recognized subpopulations of polar bears (Ursus maritimus) living throughout the Arctic, including the subpopulation found living on the eastern coast of Greenland. But on the southeastern edge of the island, Laidre and her colleagues found a group of several hundred polar bears that were both behaviorally and genetically unique. While most polar bears depend on sea ice to hunt seals, the southeast Greenland polar bears had found ways to hunt using pieces of ice that had broken off from glaciers.

“We were not expecting to identify a unique group like we found in the southeast,” Laidre, a polar bear expert at the University of Washington and Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, told Mongabay in an email.

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Source: Mongabay

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