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Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Global Warming Impacts - Arctic Cross-Breeding
Polar bears breeding with grizzlies, bowheads breeding with right whales, narwhals with belugas, even porpoises with seals. This is apparently going on in the Arctic.
In a commentary published in Wednesday's peer-reviewed journal Nature, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration marine biologist Brendan Kelly and his co-authors say rapidly disappearing sea ice means the barrier that once kept Arctic species apart is literally melting away.
" In addition to that, marine mammals are particularly infamous for hybridizing," says Kelly. " It turns out their genes haven't changed so much that they can't interbreed."
Co-author David Tallmon, a marine biologist with the University of Alaska, says while it's unlikely hybridization is widespread in the Arctic, no one has looked systemically at the issue. He and Kelly, along with Andrew Whiteley, a conservation geneticist at the University of Massachusetts, say the question of whether to try to stop animals from crossbreeding needs immediate attention. " It's likely to become increasingly important as the summer ice diminishes and is ultimately lost," says Tallmon. " Hybridization is essentially impossible to reverse once it has begun on a large scale. So, we want to be sure to halt any hybridization before it becomes unmanageable and unique lineages are lost forever."