With Warming Climate Polar Bears more Vulnerable to Disease Pathogens : The World We Share

Global Warming and shrinking habitat are already some of the challenges Polar bears are facing in today’s world and now, to make their life tougher, a study has revealed how warmer climates could make these animals more vulnerable to an array of pathogens and infections.

Animals living in the Arctic region are exposed to a very little number of pathogens and parasites in the extreme cold conditions. Disease- and illness-causing viruses and bacteria—  and parasites though may become a problem for these animals including the rare polar bears once the climate starts warming as per a Government of Nunavut-supported study recently published in the Animal Conservation journal.

The researchers say, an “insidious consequence” of climate change is exposing Arctic species to new pathogens from more southern species expanding their range northward.

To understand how polar bears could become more vulnerable to disease causing pathogens, the researchers studied 98 polar bears from Nunavut. They looked at the animals’ tissue samples harvested in eight Nunavut management-unit areas.

They found that the animals had low genetic diversity with their limited exposure to parasites and germs at present. The low genetic variation showed that their immune system too was not strong enough to tackle the varied pathogens they might be exposed to in the future when they migrated to warmer climates.

Previous studies have also found how the dual problem of climate change and disease pathogens may stress them more and reducing their immune function and affecting their overall survival.

The study says that even a slight alteration in temperature in the Arctic region can change the germs found or active in the region. Thus Arctic and subarctic ecosystems may be at great risk for emerging diseases from rapid climate changes.

The research was funded by the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and the National Science and Engineering Council.

“We greatly appreciate their efforts and thank the hunters,the Government of Nunavut, their technicians and conservation officers for the collection of polar bear tissues,” said the researchers led by Diana Weber from the New College of Florida.