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article imageCold weather triggers mass movement of polar bears

By Tim Sandle     Jan 11, 2015 in Science
An analysis of polar bear genes confirms the mammals’ recent migration to icier climes. Bears are traversing towards the Canadian Archipelago.
A new study indicates that, to keep ahead of melting ice, polar bears have begun migrating to the Canadian Archipelago.
For the research, an international team have analyzed genetic material from nearly 2,800 polar bears. Researchers have found four broad groupings of animals from different geographic locations around the Arctic. Using these genetic samples, collected from the 1980s to 2008, the researchers have been able to trace the polar bears’ gene flow—the geographic movement of genetic markers across several generations.
The genetic analysis provided a broader picture of polar bear movement than previously available via satellite collar studies, which can only track female polar bears because male bears’ necks are wider than their heads. The DNA analysis also reveals that in the last one to three generations, polar bears from the Southern Canada and Eastern Polar Basin (northern Russia and Scandinavia) have moved toward the icier Canadian Archipelago. This change in habitat is something new.
The authors hope that their new data will inform both conservation efforts and future genetic studies as polar bears adapt to a warming environment. The study has been published in the journal PLOS ONE. The research is headed "Implications of the Circumpolar Genetic Structure of Polar Bears for Their Conservation in a Rapidly Warming Arctic." The research was led by scientists based at the U.S. Geological Survey.
More about Polar bears, brown bears, Bears, Cold
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