An examination of the literature involving the dynamics between polar bear extinction and environmental changes reveal that there are actually 3 reasons behind their current declining populations, namely: human-polar bear interactions, food availability and competition as well as rising air temperatures and climate variability in the their natural environment (Dyck et al., 2007).
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What must be understood is that certain changes in natural environments have an adverse affect on creatures living in them, while it may be true that animals do have the ability to adapt to gradual changes over a period of time the sudden changes that are affecting the natural habitats of polar bears were too fast, too sudden and as a result the species was unable to adequately adapt resulting in their declining numbers.
Various studies cataloging the population development of polar bears have stated that one of the main proponents of their decline is the sudden temperature change brought about by global warming, which has in effect caused glacial melting (O’Neill et al., 2008).
It must be noted that the natural environment of polar bears are the frozen vistas and tundra of the arctic, which undergo a periodic freeze and thaw cycle which affects not only the shape of the surrounding landscape but also the surrounding biodiversity (Dyck et al., 2007).
Earlier thaw cycles due to increased temperatures have resulted in arctic ice breaking up more so than usual, which affects the ability of polar bears to effectively hunt prey such as seals and other species. Over the past several years, it has been noted that there has been an increase in the number of polar bears found drowned at sea as a result of melting sea ice wherein the bears literally drown due to exhaustion after trying to find a livable plateau of ice that contains prey.
This lack of food availability in certain areas of the Arctic has in effect caused greater competition among different polar bear groups within certain areas. For example, polar bear populations seen in western and southern Hudson Bay that normally have limited contact with each other have now begun a great deal of competition for food and space.
As noted by various studies involving biological science, this in effect causes an evolutionary response wherein the distinct lack of food resources and an increase in competition causes population numbers to decline especially in the case of the western Hudson Bay group who are distinctly smaller and less robust compared to those in the southern half of Hudson Bay.
This particular problem is further exacerbated by the fact that the local Inuit tribes in the Arctic often hunt polar bears as part of their native traditions. In fact, in previous years guided polar bear hunts were often performed resulting in considerable reductions to the polar bear population.
In fact, human forays into the Arctic in the form of various fishing vessels, commercial ventures and basic human expansion have considerably depleted both the food supply and living space of polar bears, which increases the decline of the species. It must be noted though that the research articles utilized in this examination of the decline of the polar bears emphasize that the decline of the species should not be entirely blamed on climate change, but rather other factors should be taken into account as well (O’Neill et al., 2008).
The research asks the question of whether global warming is directly responsible for their decline and answers it by stating that while global warming is a factor it is not the main cause rather it is a combination of factors such as increased competition, human interference in their natural habitat, evolutionary response mechanisms and climate change that when combined are the reason behind the polar bear’s near-extinction levels in population.
On the other hand, it must be noted that a large percentage of the blame can go to human interference in the planet’s natural environment, which caused these problems to occur in the first place.
Dyck, M. et al. (2007). Polar bears of western Hudson Bay and climate change: are warming spring air temperatures the “ultimate” survival control factor?. Ecological Complexity, 4, 73 – 84.
O’Neill, S. J., Osborn, T. J., Hulme, M., Lorenzoni, I., & Watkinson, A. R. (2008). Using expert knowledge to assess uncertainties in future polar bear populations under climate change. Journal of Applied Ecology, 45(6), 1649-1659.