The April Special Issue of Ecological Applications examines such potential effects, puts them in historical context, and describes possible conservation measures to mitigate them. The assessment reflects the latest thinking of experts representing multiple scientific disciplines.
Sea ice is the common habitat feature uniting these unique and diverse Arctic inhabitants. Sea ice serves as a platform for resting and reproduction, influences the distribution of food sources, and provides a refuge from predators. The loss of sea ice poses a particularly severe threat to Arctic species, such as the hooded seal, whose natural history is closely tied to, and depends on, sea ice.
The Arctic undergoes dramatic seasonal transformation. Arctic marine mammals appear to be well adapted to the extremes and variability of this environment, having survived past periods of extended warming and cooling.
“However, the rate and scale of current climate change are expected to distinguish current circumstances from those of the past several millennia. These new conditions present unique challenges to the well-being of Arctic marine mammals,” says Sue Moore (NOAA/Alaska Fisheries Science Center).
Climate change will pose a variety of threats to marine mammals. For some, such as polar bears, it is likely to reduce the availability of their prey, requiring them to seek alternate food. Authors Bodil Bluhm and Rolf Gradinger (University of Alaska, Fairbanks) note that while some Arctic marine mammal species may be capable of adjusting to changing food availability, others may be handicapped by their very specific food requirements and hunting techniques. Species such as the walrus and polar bear fall under this category, while the beluga whale and bearded seal are among those who are more opportunistic in their eating habits and therefore potentially less vulnerable, at least in this regard.
Using a quantitative index of species sensitivity to climate change, Kristin Laidre (University of Washington) and colleagues found that the most sensitive Arctic marine mammals appear to be the hooded seal, polar bear, and the narwhal, primarily due to their reliance on sea ice and specialized feeding.
Shifts in the prey base of Arctic marine mammals would likely lead to changes in body condition and potentially affect the immune system of marine mammals, according to Kathy Burek (Alaska Veterinary Pathology Services). She and fellow researchers point out that climate change may alter pathogen transmission and exposure to infectious diseases, possibly lowering the health of marine mammals and, in the worst case, their survival. Changing environmental conditions, including more frequent bouts of severe weather and rising air and water temperatures, also could impact the health of Arctic marine mammals.
The effects of climate change will be compounded by a host of secondary factors. The loss of ice will open the Arctic to new levels of shipping, oil and gas exploration and drilling, fishing, hunting, tourism, and coastal development. These, in turn, will add new threats to marine mammal populations, including ship strikes, contaminants, and competition for prey.
Timothy Ragen (US Marine Mammal Commission) and colleagues describe how conservation measures may be able to address the secondary effects of climate change, but that only reductions in greenhouse gas emissions can—over the long-term—conserve Arctic marine mammals and the Arctic ecosystems on which they depend.
Loss of habitat causes double damage to species richness
02.04.2019 | Deutsches Zentrum für integrative Biodiversitätsforschung (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig
Deep decarbonization of industry is possible with innovations
25.03.2019 | Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (ISI)
A stellar flare 10 times more powerful than anything seen on our sun has burst from an ultracool star almost the same size as Jupiter
A localization phenomenon boosts the accuracy of solving quantum many-body problems with quantum computers which are otherwise challenging for conventional computers. This brings such digital quantum simulation within reach on quantum devices available today.
Quantum computers promise to solve certain computational problems exponentially faster than any classical machine. “A particularly promising application is the...
The technology could revolutionize how information travels through data centers and artificial intelligence networks
Engineers at the University of California, Berkeley have built a new photonic switch that can control the direction of light passing through optical fibers...
Physicists observe how electron-hole pairs drift apart at ultrafast speed, but still remain strongly bound.
Modern electronics relies on ultrafast charge motion on ever shorter length scales. Physicists from Regensburg and Gothenburg have now succeeded in resolving a...
Engineers create novel optical devices, including a moth eye-inspired omnidirectional microwave antenna
A team of engineers at Tufts University has developed a series of 3D printed metamaterials with unique microwave or optical properties that go beyond what is...
17.04.2019 | Event News
15.04.2019 | Event News
09.04.2019 | Event News
18.04.2019 | Life Sciences
18.04.2019 | Physics and Astronomy
18.04.2019 | Life Sciences