Vanishing ice habitat
The IUCN, or International Union for Conservation of Nature, is one of the world’s leading conservation authorities. This recent research has predicted a bleak future for the polar bear, which is already classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Using recent trends in sea ice cover, research at the Norwegian Polar Institute has suggested that the summer sea ice habitat of the polar bear in the Polar Basin may vanish in as little as 10 years’ time.
Polar bears rely on sea ice in order to hunt for their main prey, the ringed seal. With global temperatures set to rise and the sea ice predicted to melt, polar bears will be unable to hunt, and will be forced to spend more time on land and rely on stored fat reserves. Less food also means bears will give birth to fewer, smaller young.
The polar bear is one of the first species to be designated as threatened due to climate change. Scientists, however, are predicting that climate change will cause a mass extinction of many species of plants and animals. Species that live or breed on low-lying remote islands, like marine turtles, are threatened by rising sea levels and extreme weather, and many plants, which cannot move to find new habitats, are disappearing from parts of their range, due to drought and higher temperatures.
Simon Stuart, Chair of the IUCN’s Species Survival Commission and Wildscreen Trustee, says “Climate change will be one of the major drivers of species extinctions in the 21st century. In order to slow the pace the adverse effects of climate change are having on species around the world, we must work to reduce use of energy from fossil fuels and ensure that our leaders make and adhere to strong commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions now.”
Dag Vongraven of the Norwegian Polar Institute advises:
“Now is the time to act in order to save the waning polar bear population. If we fail to make a stand to save this species we risk having the population become severely decimated, and quite certainly they will have disappeared from many areas where they’re found today.”
For more information on the polar bear, visit the IUCN SSC Polar Bear Specialist Group.
Find out more about climate change on ARKive.
Explore the habitat of the polar bear on our Arctic eco-region pages.
Becky Moran, ARKive Species Text Author