DNA extracted from a rare and ancient polar bear fossil has become a mine of information concerning the evolution of the species.
Discovered in Norway in 2004, the fossil suggests that the polar evolved recently and adapted at a rapid rate to climatic change. Metro spoke to two of the scientists involved in the fossil studies, Stephan Schuster and Charlotte Lindqvist, to find out more about the past and the future of the Arctic’s top predator.
The fossil shows that polar bears survived an interglacial period warmer than the current. However, “The fossil is a single find,” stresses Schuster. “We cannot base the entire viability of a species on it.”
The sediment on the fossil shows that the climate, therefore flora and fauna at the time were similar to today.
“This does not mean that we will have polar bears roaming around tropical forests,” says Lindqvist. “They survived because they had a suitable habitat that was, overall, still relatively cold.”
The discovery led many to conclude polar bears would not be affected
“People need to understand how mosaic climate is. It is unlikely global warming will lead to polar bears becoming extinct, but their numbers could dramatically go down. The crucial limiting factor is the loss of habitat,” explains Schuster.