Study: Polar bears seek new habitats further north

Polar bears are gradually moving north in search of longer lasting sea ice, according to findings published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.

“The polar bear’s recent directional gene flow northward is something new,” said U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) researcher and lead study author, Elizabeth Peacock, in a press release. “In our analyses that focused on more historic gene flow, we did not detect movement in this direction.”

Scientists are linking the migration of the marine mammals to climate change, as the polar bears move away from areas with increasing temperatures and depleting amounts of sea ice, toward the Canadian Archipelago and Western Polar Basin, which have abundant, year-round supplies.

For the study, U.S.G.S. researchers and scientists from Canada, Greenland, Norway, and Russia analyzed the DNA of approximately 2,800 polar bears in the Canadian arctic, tracking changes in their genetic make-up over generations. They found that the migration north happened slowly over the last one to three generations.

Arctic sea ice is essential to the existence of polar bears, as it provides them with a place to live, breed and hunt for seals and other prey. The effects of climate change on glacial ice are explained in this report on Alaska by NewsHour Science correspondent, Miles O’Brien:

Polar bears are currently categorized as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species due in part to habitat-loss.