The mixing or hybridization between polar and brown bears appears to be easier than previously expected. Senckenberg scientists have sequenced the entire genomes of four bear species, making it now possible to analyze the evolutionary history of all bears at the genome level. It shows that gene flow, or gene exchange, between species by extensive hybridization, is possible between most bear species - not only polar and brown bear. The DNA samples of different bear species came from different European zoos, underlining their importance not only for conservation, but also for research. The study published today in "Nature Scientific Reports" also questions the existing species concept in general, because other genome studies too have, frequently found gene flow among species.
Being a young guillemot chick is quite hard. Growing up on a small ledge on high cliffs in the Arctic, surrounded by thousands of birds, being prey for gulls, foxes and even polar bears is quite stressful. But even worse, the little ones have to jump down into the water before their wings can support them for flight. This behavior has puzzled scientists for a long time. Now, an answer may have been found.
Svalbard is like the entire Arctic in a nutshell. Especially, reindeer, which are often portrayed as pulling Santa's sleigh, are an iconic species. The Svalbard reindeer is smaller and more sturdy than the average mainland reindeer. Now, ecologists have found that exactly these Svalbard reindeer are shrinking due to the impact of climate change on their food supplies.
The critically endangered western gray whale population that feeds in Russia's Far East waters is slowly showing signs of recovery, but their numbers and range are still at risk from industry activity in the region, according to a new report. Over the last 12 years, Sakhalin Energy has made important efforts to limit the impact of its operations on whales and the fragile environment. During this period, the western gray whale population has grown 3-4% annually, from an estimated 115 animals in 2004 to 174 in 2015.
A couple of weeks ago in Arviat, Nunavut (CA), a local Inuit was out to hunt polar bears. However, what he had hunted was not an ordinary polar bear but a polar bear – grizzly hybrid. This is the third confirmed sighting of this hybrid and scientists now debate over the future of polar bears in the face of climate change.
Red knots are an amazing bird species that migrate more than 5’000 km each season. From their breeding grounds on the Taimyr Peninsula in Russian Siberia they fly down south as far as Mauretania and even Australia and New Zealand. Due to the warming of the Arctic, the birds are becoming smaller. A new study now shows that the price for this shrinkage is not due until they arrive at their winter homes in the south.
The Arctic is a relentless and unforgiving environment with harsh conditions, yet a rich area for feeding in summer. Many sea birds spend the summer in the Arctic for breeding and feeding, attracted by the nutrient-rich water along the coastal areas of Alaska. However, since last year, researchers have noted massive die-offs of common murres (Uria aalge) along the coast. First thought to be a unique event, more and more regions along the coast of Alaska seem to be affected. The latest area with dead birds ashore is Katmai National Park in the southwest corner of Alaska. The scientists are puzzled about the reasons for the die-off.
Polar bears are perfectly adapted to their harsh environment, even in energy terms. Summer time, when all other animals are flourishing, means fasting for polar bears and the king of the Arctic has live off its energy reserves gained during the winter time. However, thanks to climate change, summer are getting longer and the animals weaker.
Polar bears have a unique status within people’s view. On the one hand, they are respected by the native Arctic peoples and others spend a lot of money to see them; on the other hand, they are feared and even loathed because they are the top predator and King of the Arctic. The problems between men and bears are old and now they are getting worse with a warming Arctic. Especially in the Hudson Bay area before it freezes over, bears had threatened people in the small communities and people used to shoot them. Since 2010, WWF – Canada has been involved in a successful campaign to prevent bear-men encounters and the need to kill each other.
The current ice chart of Svalbard is heartbreakingly white. After a good ice winter in 2014-15, with a lot of ice especially on the east side of Spitsbergen, the current early winter is a complete disappointment.