This week’s Tuesday Science Times is completely awash in information about the climate change issue. The first article in section Nature in the Balance discusses how the polar bears are adapting to the opportunities that come from living in a different climate. Polar bears generally hunt seal through the layers of ice that covers the Arctic Sea. Now that the ice is melting earlier and earlier, the polar bear has turned its sights to a new prey. The snow geese are easier to hunt on shore. The timing couldn’t be better for the polar bear. It’s the summer breading season for the geese. In turn the geese are turning the plants and the landscape has been turned into barren mud.
It is interesting to see how the complicated and intricate the ecosystem is with this seemingly small change of diet for the polar bear. The goose has also seen its share of environmental change. The population of the snow goose has been increasing drastically over the past 50 years. The geese started out in Louisiana and Texas in the coastal marshes, where their population size was limited by the limited winter food supply. Over time, the marshes were drained, and the geese moved on. Now the food supply is limitless because they have found the agricultural products of the Midwest. The geese continue to migrate to the Arctic for the summer though and the polar bear are cashing in.
It seems that the geese can overcome the new dietary habits of the polar bear. The real issue has to be the result of snow geese diet on the plants that are eaten by the birds, caribou, geese and other animals as well. The plants are being affected by climate change more drastically than the animals at this point because the variable temperatures of the seasons are not easily adapted to. An early fall hurts the plants more than an early summer benefits them. Only time will tell how climate change will play out but at least we know that there are wonderful scientists out there taking the time and spending the energy needed to study the changes as they are happening now.