HAY­LEY BEN­NETT

WE ALL KNOW ABOUT RIS­ING TEM­PER­A­TURES AND MELT­ING ICE CAPS, BUT WHO­EVER HEARD OF THE GRO­LAR BEAR? HERE ARE SOME OF THE LESSER-KNOWN IM­PACTS OF CLI­MATE CHANGE

BBC Earth (Asia) - - Welcome - WORDS BY HAY­LEY BEN­NETT

Hay­ley Ben­nett is a free­lance sci­ence writer based out of Bris­tol, UK. In this is­sue, she talks about the real ef­fects of cli­mate change.

GRO­LAR BEARS

Some say ‘gro­lar’, oth­ers pre­fer ‘piz­zly’. Which­ever it is, this griz­zly-po­lar bear cross, or hy­brid, is the re­sult of two habi­tats col­lid­ing un­der the in­flu­ence of cli­mate change. While melt­ing sea ice is forc­ing the re­main­ing po­lar bears ashore, the pre­vi­ously frigid Arc­tic is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly bear­able to griz­zlies ven­tur­ing north.

En­coun­ters with gro­lar bears – in­clud­ing one shot by a hunter in north­ern Canada in 2016 – seem to be on the rise, sug­gest­ing the two species may be mat­ing more of­ten. The hy­brid bears are fer­tile, so there’s been talk of a new species emerg­ing. How­ever, Dr An­drew De­rocher, a bear bi­ol­o­gist from the Univer­sity of Al­berta, Canada, doubts this will hap­pen. “Pre­dict­ing evo­lu­tion is a fool’s game,” he ad­mits. “How­ever, my best guess is that we won’t see a new species. Griz­zly bears could eas­ily ab­sorb a bit of po­lar bear DNA and keep on go­ing.” In fact, he adds, griz­zlies in some of the is­lands off the north coast of Venezuela have car­ried DNA from po­lar bears since po­lar bears were fur­ther south tens of thou­sands of years ago. A 2017 study sug­gests that hy­brids pre­fer to mate with griz­zlies over po­lar bears, which should pro­tect the po­lar genome – though po­lar bears them­selves may die out. Other cli­mate-driven crosses in­clude a num­ber of dif­fer­ent seal hy­brids, as well as bel­uga-nar­whal whales spot­ted in western Green­land.

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