Climate change is an undeniable reality. The rise of average temperature worldwide has had a devastating effect on the fragile balance of ecosystems. Nowhere is it more apparent than the Arctics, where shrinking polar ice caps and more extreme winter storms are shrinking habitats, depleting food sources and driving species to possible extinction. Here are 5 Arctic species that are most at risk from climate change.
The ringed seal is the most abundant seal found in the Arctic with populations spread out across the entire region. It is the primary prey for the polar bear and a fall in its population is expected to have the most significant effect on the polar bear’s survival. The ringed seals live in isolation, coming together on the sea ice for breeding and molting. The mother seal raises its pup in a lair dug in the snow. As the ice cap shrinks in size, pups are forced to the surface earlier, which makes them vulnerable to predators before they are ready to protect themselves.
The emaciated polar bear, stranded on a block of ice is the poster child for the vulnerable Arctic fauna. Polar bears are at the top of the Arctic food chain and the species most at the threat of extinction if the polar ice cap were to totally disappear, as is projected by some models. Sea ice is critical for polar bears; a hunting ground where they catch seals and a corridor for moving from region to region. Shrinking sea ice makes it harder for mother bears to feed their young, resulting in a decrease in the survival rate of young polar bears and depleting populations.
Atlantic walruses live in Arctic waters but during the summer months, the female rests on the edges of the sea ice with its young. It dives down in the shallow water and feeds off the bottom dwellers such as clams and worms. As the sea ice shrinks, it puts greater distance between the walruses’ mating and feeding grounds. With the shrinking of sea ice, more walruses are forced in smaller areas leading to crowding. Stampedes are common and it is the young ones that perish.
The melting of the Arctic ice has also opened up newer sea routes, causing ships and cruise liners to encroach further into the habitat of the walruses. This close contact with humans makes walruses anxious, causing them to seek refuge elsewhere and affecting their breeding.
Caribou and reindeers are the largest terrestrial herbivores in the Arctic which have an effect on both vegetation and population of predators such as wolves.
As global warming causes the summer months to be extended, it also leads to increase in the breeding of flies and insects that torment the caribou as they feed. To rid themselves of the fleas, the caribou run. This takes away from their feeding time and also causes them to expend valuable energy. During the winter months, the caribou dig into the snow to feed on the lichens underneath. As extreme weather and snowstorms intensify, these lichens get buried under an impregnable layer of ice which makes it difficult for the caribou to get to the food underneath.
The Ivory gull breeds in the high arctic and is found throughout Greenland, upper North America, and Eurasia. It is the only species of gull that prefers to breed on the thickest sea ice rather than land. Glaciers and ice act as barriers that protect the Ivory gull’s breeding grounds from land-based predators. As the weather warms, the breeding grounds of the ivory gull become more accessible to land predators.