Facing a massive loss of habitat brought on by rapidly melting ice near the North Pole, arctic mammals may start looking across species lines for potential mates. As a result, researchers worry that the unique adaptations to arctic conditions that have brought us iconic species such as polar bears, harp seals, and walruses will be lost in the genetic shuffle.
Harp seal
Image: Wikimedia commons, Matthieu Godbout
"There's a potential for widespread hybridization that has not been previously recognized," said geneticist linkurl:Andrew Whiteley;http://eco.umass.edu/people/faculty/whiteley-andrew/ of the University of Massachusetts. Central to the problem is the loss of Arctic sea ice, which has structured the way many species have been evolving for thousands of years. "We're expecting the sea ice in the summer months to be essentially gone in the Arctic within the next few decades," said linkurl:Brendan Kelly,;http://www.afsc.noaa.gov/nmml/personnel/nmmlprofile.php?name=Brendan.Kelly a marine mammologist at the National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Juneau, Alaska. This...
Narwhal skull
Image: Wikimedia commons
B. Kelly, et al., "The Arctic melting pot," Nature, 468: 891, 2010.

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