24 Jul 2012:
Evolution of Polar Bear
Followed Changes in Climate, Study Says
An analysis of sequenced polar bear genomes provides new insights into how climate change and interbreeding with brown bears led to the evolution of the modern-day polar bear
. In an analysis of the
nuclear genomes of 28 brown, black, and polar bears, an international team of researchers found evidence that polar bear populations fluctuated with climate shifts over the last million years, with populations increasing during cooler periods and declining during periods of warmer temperatures. Their findings also suggest that during periods of glacial retreat, polar bears came into greater contact with brown bears as their ranges overlapped. “Maybe we’re seeing a hint that in really warm times, polar bears changed their life style and came into contact, and indeed interbred, with brown bears,” said Stephan Schuster, a scientist at Pennsylvania State University and co-lead author of the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
. While earlier research indicated that polar bears have only existed for about 600,000 years, the new research suggests that the polar bear may have evolved into a distinct species 4 to 5 million years ago.
Yale Environment 360 is
a publication of the
Yale School of Forestry
& Environmental Studies
Yale Environment 360
articles are now available in Spanish and Portuguese on Universia
, the online educational network. Visit the site.
Business & Innovation
Policy & Politics
Pollution & Health
Science & Technology
Antarctica and the Arctic
Central & South America
Photographer Robert Wintner documents the exquisite beauty and biodiversity of Cuba’s coral reefs, which are largely intact thanks to stifled coastal development in the communist nation. View the gallery.
is now available for mobile devices at e360.yale.edu/mobile
The Warriors of Qiugang
, a Yale Environment 360
video, chronicles a Chinese village’s fight against a polluting chemical plant. It was nominated for a 2011 Academy Award for Best Documentary Short.
Watch the video.
Top Image: aerial view of Iceland
. © Google & TerraMetrics.
A three-part series Tainted Harvest
looks at the soil pollution crisis in China, the threat it poses to the food supply, and the complexity of any cleanup. Read the series.