Polar bears and grizzlies are now breeding, creating a new hybrid species of "grolar bears." (Note: the above photo is not a "grolar bear," which aren't yet represented by any Creative Commons-licensed photos, but a plain old boring polar bear.) Narwhals and belugas too are suddenly swapping genes. Why, after thousands of years of separation, are these arctic species finding mates from the subarctic? Climate change, it seems.
The latest issue of Nature features an article, "The Arctic Melting Pot," that delves into this new trend. Says lead author Brendan Kelly, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Alaska, "The rapid disappearance of the Arctic ice cap is removing the barrier that’s kept a number of species isolated from each other for at least ten thousand years."
Over on OnEarth, Bruce Barcott has a fascinating Q&A with Kelly, in which the biologist says that we should expect to see "a lot more" arctic hybrids in the near future.
Are the hybrids you describe in your new Nature paper (see "Grolar Bears and Narlugas: Rise of the Arctic Hybrids") just "Ripley’s Believe It Or Not" freaks?
Some people may say these are just a few freaks. Others will say the sky is falling. What we’re saying is that these are a few of the many examples of hybridization happening among marine mammals in the Arctic right now. It fits with what we would expect as a result of the rapid change in Arctic habitat. This sort of hybridization may be happening with more frequency, and we should pay attention.
Go on and read the whole interview here, and keep your fingers crossed that Santa's workshop is safe and sound.