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Effects of ice melting on ecosystems

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The effects of global warming are being reflected in the sudden decline of West Hudson Bay Polar bears in Canada, one of the southern-most Polar bear populations worldwide. This decline presages a decline of northern populations, who are likely to experience similar consequences (Anonymous, 2007). According to a report by the Canadian Wildlife Service, co-authored by the United States Geological Survey, early ice breakup in spring is the leading cause for reduced survival in Polar Bears (Anonymous, 2007). Environment Canada states that bodies of water in Manitoba have risen in temperature by almost three degrees Celsius, and ice breakup now occurs three weeks in advance (Anonymous, 2007).

Polar bears need ice to breed, nurture offspring, and forage for seals, their primary food source. With limited spring ice time, Polar bears are placed under extra pressure to acquire sufficient fat stores in time for long summer months, during which they fast and minimal ice restricts them on land, on which they rarely scavenge (Anonymous, 2007). It also reduces foraging time, therefore reducing fat storage or the likelihood of the bears catching prey, thus increasing chances of starvation. Statistics show an acute decline in the North Hudson Bay population in the previous ten years, with the population reducing from 1,194 to 935 individuals (Anonymous, 2007). Northern populations will likely see similar consequences if harsh ramifications of global warming are not reduced, or reversed. To see results, mitigation is needed immediately.

How will melting ice-sheets affect the Seal-Polar bear, Prey-Predator relationship, thus impacting biodiversity and the ecosystems of Arctic species?

Irregular ice melting patterns due to global warming is causing major changes in Arctic ecosystems. A recent study conducted by Norwegian Polar Institute and the Arctic University of Norway suggests that when melting patterns were consistent, Polar bears and Ringed seals concentrated in tidal glacial fronts, areas of sea-ice rich in fish, a food source for Ringed seals. These areas made perfect hunting spots for Polar bears, as they were dense with Seals, and the sea ice was largely whole (Hamilton et al., 2017). The study shows that due to fast-ice, ice attached to the coastline, melting faster in Spring and failing to reform completely in Autumn, Polar bears are spending significantly less time near tidal glacial fronts, preferring whole ice rather than calved pieces to roam freely. The Ringed seals, however, remain there, having no preference for fast or calved ice. These behaviors are increasing the spatial gap between the Polar bear and Ringed seal, reducing the key prey-predator interaction (Hamilton et al., 2017).

In the search for food, Polar bears are moving further from their home range and spending increased time on land, near ground-nesting birds. The study shows that Polar bears can eat almost 90% of the nesting eggs, which can have a significant impact on bird population and conservation (Hamilton et al., 2017). Another study suggests that depredation can influence the migration routes of attacked bird populations, who can also face extirpation in the coming years if the attacks continue. This study further suggests that Polar bears are failing to meet energetic demands, as bird eggs are not sufficient in comparison to seals for long fasting summer months, leading to more deaths and reproductive issues in bear populations (Iverson et al., 2014). Therefore, melting ice is creating complications for Arctic ecosystems, distorting natural balance and relationships.

The newspaper article, “Earlier ice breakup hurting polar bears,” is calling for immediate mitigation efforts for the effects of global warming. Recent studies prove this urgency. Irregular patterns of melting ice sheets are affecting Arctic ecosystems, species that are ice-dependent, but also those that are not. Irregular ice melting is setting up a domino effect, difficult to control once it has started. Rising temperatures are causing a flux in the prey-predator relationship of Seals and Polar bears, prompting the bears to travel further distances and attack bird colonies (Hamilton et al., 2017). This is disadvantageous to the Polar bears, as they are failing to meet energetic demands from mere bird eggs, but also to the conservation, reproduction, and migration of attacked bird colonies (Iverson et al., 2014). Each conflict creates further problems, like a chain-reaction. As temperatures continue to rise, northern ecosystems will too, be susceptible to these changes. Therefore, to stop the heavy changes in Arctic ecosystems, and prevent northern populations from being affected, mitigation efforts must start immediately.

The article, “Earlier ice breakup hurting polar bears,” has reported a consistent decline in North Hudson Bay Polar bear populations over a ten-year range, due to early ice breakup, a side effect of rising temperatures. Recent studies have shown that irregular ice dynamics are damaging to Polar bear populations, in addition to their ecosystem, affecting key predator-prey interactions, and the conservation and reproduction of various bird species. The consequences of these irregular melting and reformation patterns are potent and hard to stop once started. Immediate relief is needed to conserve these species and restore natural behavior, not only from individuals but also from large corporations with big ecological footprints.

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