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As Ice Melts, Polar Bears' Diversity Declines

Polar bears are experiencing a decline in genetic diversity as ice in the Arctic melts, limiting their ability to travel, CBS News reports.

Researchers from the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research and the University of Oslo analyzed DNA samples collected from 626 polar bears between 1995 and 2016 in four regions of the Svalbard Archipelago. As they report in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, their microsatellite marker-based analysis noted between a 3 percent and 10 percent loss of genetic diversity in that time. Further, there was a rapid increase in genetic differentiation between the populations.

The findings suggest the loss of sea ice and habitat fragmentation has led to a decrease in gene flow among polar bears and that further loss of sea ice could exacerbate inbreeding and further decrease genetic diversity.

"It is worrisome because the loss of genetic diversity and likely inbreeding depression could result in reduced survival and productivity for this iconic species," first author Simo Njabulo Maduna from NIBIO tells CBS News.