Climate change drives polar bears to turn to inbreeding

Due to continuous strains on the species that are being presented by climate change, scientists recently revealed that polar bears are beginning to inbreed, a dangerous habit for the animals that threatens genetic diversity among the population.


Katharina M Miller

A polar bear and its cub stand on a lone sheet of ice in the quickly-melting Arctic.

The negative impacts of climate change on humanity have been obvious for quite some time now.

Droughts, wildfires, rising sea levels, air pollution, and elevated global temperatures are just some of the effects that climate change is having on humanity, and the list goes on and on.

The effects of climate change are obviously having a disastrous impact on the human race, human activities, like pollution, deforestation, etc., have been the leading aggressors in the assault on the planet. However, it is not only humans suffering from these impacts but animals across the planet, as well.

It is no secret that animals are suffering as a result of climate change. Droughts have caused vital water sources across the planet to begin to dry up, deforestation in the Amazon rainforest has destroyed the homes of millions of animals, and melting Arctic ice has resulted in both the loss of homes for animals living in the region and the increase in difficulty of finding food.

A sobering aerial view of the destruction of the Amazon Rainforest. (Getty Images)

Nevertheless, more bothersome news concerning climate change’s impact on the Artic has emerged in recent weeks, with scientists releasing new information saying that polar bears now appear to be turning to inbreeding.

As reported by Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a Norwegian research team took tissue specimens from different polar bears that reside on various locations on an island in the Artic region.

The experiment consisted of samples that were accumulated over 20 years. After analyzing the different specimens that the team collected, they came to the conclusion that genetic diversity among the polar bear population of the island decreased over the span of time.

Genetic diversity is crucial to the long-term survival of a species. Over time, a habitat can naturally change, and in order to keep up with the changing surrounds, a species must evolve in order to survive and overcome the challenges that the new conditions may present.

If members of a species begin to inbreed, as is being seen with polar bears, it can pose significant risks to the long-term survival of the population because it prevents the members of the population from being able to adapt to new conditions over time and unable to keep up with a changing habitat.

Commenting on the situation, the author of the study, Simo Njabulo Maduna, told the following to CBS News, “It is worrisome because the loss of genetic diversity and likely inbreeding depression could result in reduced survival and productivity for this iconic species.”

As the world continues to be impacted by climate change, the issue of decreasing genetic diversity with a species’ population is not limited to just polar bears.

As noted in a 2016 article published at the Yale School of the Environment, other creatures such as insects have run into similar problems as the polar bears.

The Meltwater Stonefly, another creature that has reportedly faced difficulties in preserving genetic diversity due to climate change. (Jonathan Giersch, USGS)

In response to this issue, scientists have begun to research the possibility of isolating different traits within a species’ DNA, which will help them to locate ones responsible for ensuring a species’ survival in a changing climate.

If successful, scientists may be able provide resources that would safeguard species that are adapting to new conditions in their habitats.

If anything is clear at this point, it is that solutions to our climate crisis must begin to be adopted.

The human race is already suffering the negative effects than come with climate change on a daily basis, and while humanity contributes negatively to the earth’s changing climate, it is never too late to work towards solutions that will prevent further damage to the planet from taking place.

It is important to remember that it is not just humans being affected by climate change but the animals across the world, too. To prevent their anguish and to promote their survival are some of the most vital reasons as to why the world must take the fight against climate change more seriously.

The crisis that the polar bears are facing is only one example of the stresses being put on animals across the planet from climate change, but it is a signal to humanity that it must work harder to protect the creatures of the earth from the negative effects of the changing climate that will only become worse if left ignored.