Sustainability Climate Change

Scientists warn polar bears are inbreeding due to climate change

photo of polar bear
Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson Churchill Manitoba

Story at a glance

  • A new study on climate change’s effects on polar bears was published Wednesday in the Royal Society Journals.
  • The study found a 10-percent decrease in the genetic diversity of polar bears in the Norwegian archipelago Svalbard over a 20-year period.
  • As the sea ice melts due to climate change, polar bears encounter fewer polar bears to mate with.

Polar bears have turned to inbreeding due to the effects of climate change, according to a new study.

The study, published Wednesday in the Royal Society Journals, found a 10-percent decrease in the genetic diversity of polar bears in the Norwegian archipelago Svalbard over a 20-year period, corresponding with the loss of sea ice.

“We found a drastic reduction in genetic diversity over the 20-year period,” one of the study’s authors, Simo Maduna of the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research, told ABC News. “And we could, in actual fact, associate this reduction in genetic diversity with the loss of sea ice.”

As the sea ice melts due to climate change, polar bears have fewer encounters with other polar bears. 


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Researchers worry that as more bears begin to inbreed, it could lead to infertility among the polar bears, as well as an inability to combat disease.

“With genetic diversity, when the population becomes so small, you’ll find that there will be a higher chance of closely related individuals mating and producing offspring,” Maduna said. “But with that comes a risk in the sense that some of the traits … that are recessive, will now basically be unmasked in the population.”

Polar bears are already facing other detrimental effects of global warming, such as starvation from their dwindling hunting grounds. A previous study from 2020 estimated that all polar bears could be extinct by 2100 if the Arctic ice continues to melt at its current rate.


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