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What Would Happen if Polar Bears Went Extinct?

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Although at first glance the Arctic appears to be a barren place, it is in fact an ecosystem that is booming with life both above and below the ice. The sea ice of the Arctic is very much like the soil of the forest, where many kinds of life can grow and flourish. The polar bear may be at the top of the food chain but it depends on the sea ice as a platform to hunt, travel and find mates. If the sea ice disappears due to climate change, so does the polar bear and many other creatures that depend on this ice. The loss of multiple Arctic species could have many effects on both the environment and humans.

Polar Bears are what is known as an ‘indicator species’ meaning the overall health of the species reflects the health of its environment. The extinction of polar bears would indicate the sea ice has disappeared, therefore making the polar bear the “indicator species” of what is happening to the Arctic environment.

Credit: Polar Bears International

Consider a basic layout of the Arctic food chain as shown above. You can see that every living thing in the Arctic starts with the vegetation (algae) growing in the ice and snow. If there is no sea ice, there is no algae; without algae there can be no invertebrates and if there are no invertebrates there can be no fish and so on and so forth all the way up to polar bears. If no ice is available for this vegetation to grow in, this food chain will uncouple and species will be lost. The significant domino effect the loss of sea ice would cause is important to help us remember that everything on Earth is interconnected and that for every action there will be a reaction.

The melting of the sea ice will also affect species outside the water. For example, many marine birds depend on invertebrates or fish for their survival.

Another example of an animal that would be affected by this loss of sea ice would be the bowhead whale, which depends primarily on large amounts of invertebrates for its meals.

These are only the first few domino effects that could have many, many other outcomes and ramifications leading to an overall loss in Arctic biodiversity.

Polar bears and other Arctic species are not the only one’s dependent on sea ice. The northern indigenous communities living in the Arctic also rely on sea ice for subsistence hunting, cultural practices and travel. Without sea ice, these people’s way of life cannot continue the way it has for thousands of years.

The sea ice is literally the platform upon which the Arctic food chain has built itself, and therefore its disappearance will cause many significant downfalls in the Arctic. Join us tomorrow as we discuss ways in which you can help save the sea ice from within your own home.

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