Move the Polar Bears to Antarctica?

LazyLion

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http://www.wired.com/science/planetearth/news/2008/07/species_relocation

If the most dire climate predictions come to pass, the Arctic ice cap will melt entirely, and polar bears could face extinction.

So why not pack a few off to Antarctica, where the sea ice will never run out?

It may seem like a preposterous question. But polar bears are just the tip of the "assisted colonization" iceberg. Other possibilities: moving African big game to the American Great Plains, or airlifting endangered species from one mountaintop to another as climate zones shrink.

"It's a showdown. The impacts of climate change on animals have become apparent. And it's time to decide whether we're going to do something," said Notre Dame ecologist Jessica Hellmann, co-author of an influential 2007 Conservation Biology paper (.pdf). "Reducing CO2 is vital, but we might have to step in and intervene."

Once dismissed as wrongheaded and dangerous, assisted colonization -- rescuing vanishing species by moving them someplace new -- is now being discussed by serious conservationists. And no wonder: Caught between climate change and human pressure, species are going extinct 100 times faster than at any point in human history.

And some scientists say that figure is too conservative. The real extinction rate, they say, is a full 1,000 times higher than normal. The last time such annihilation took place was during the time of the dinosaurs. And though many conservationists say that saving species by transplanting them is foolish, others say there's no choice.

"They want the world to be what it was before. But it's not going to happen," said Australian ecologist Hugh Possingham, author of an assisted-colonization article published Thursday in Science (citation page).

The language of Possingham's paper is understated -- its centerpiece is a risk-benefit flow chart -- but the recommendations are radical. He proposes a systematic analysis of Earth's threatened species, identifying those suitable for last-ditch uprooting.

That the scientific world's most august publication carries such a proposal marks a sea-level shift in conservationist consciousness, say researchers. Others have weighed the idea, but Possingham's team came down firmly in favor.

Adding to the momentum, the Ecological Society of America's annual meeting in August will be preceded by a three-day discussion of assisted colonization, by ecologists, policy wonks and lawyers.

But not everyone is in a rush. "I think it's a bad idea," said Duke University biologist Jason McLachlan, also a co-author of the Conservation Biology paper. "There are a million examples of invasive species introduced with good intentions that caused all sorts of damage."

Unfortunately, perhaps, for the polar bear, it's a perfect example of McLachlan's objections. Cost and logistics aside, the bears would wreak havoc in an ecosystem unprepared for them.

"Antarctic penguins and seals aren't adapted to surface predators," explained Steven Amstrup, the chief U.S. Geological Survey polar-bear researcher. "The bears would have a field day for a while, because they could walk right up to them and eat them. For a short period of time, it would be great, but in the end the whole system would probably collapse."

Accounts of destruction wrought by invasive species are legion, from wild hogs in the southern United States and zebra mussels in the Great Lakes to cane toads in Australia and mongeese in Hawaii. An endangered species that now seems sympathetic could quickly become a villain.

But assisted-colonization proponents believe their animals, unlike other invasive species, would be carefully selected and their effects anticipated.

"You work out what the risks are before you take action," said Possingham. "You go through these decision trees, and start by doing some trials under very controlled circumstances, then we'll learn about it."

Things could still go wrong, said Hellmann, but the consequences pale in comparison to those of climate change and inaction. And for animals whose natural habitat has been eradicated, or who live -- as did the golden toad of Costa Rica's cloud forest -- in rapidly changing places from which they cannot escape, there may be no other option.

"If all other conservation methods fail, and evidence shows that a species is in danger of extinction, then assisted migration becomes an option that we should consider seriously," said Nature Conservancy ecologist Patrick Gonzalez.

McLachlan, however, has other reasons for opposition. Assisted colonization could be seen as a quick-fix panacea, distracting people from the necessary task of preserving habitat and braking climate change. More philosophically, there's something troubling about treating nature as a zoological theme park.

"We're destroying any semblance of the idea that a place has its own biota and history," he said. "It's not just saving a couple whooping cranes, it's redesigning the entire biota of Earth. And that's incredibly creepy to me."

Hellmann agrees that assisted colonization could be mistaken as a convenient solution. But the purity of nature, she said, is now a myth.

"You can find signatures of humanity in the deepest jungles and remote locations. This idea of pristine nature doesn't really apply," she said. "If assisted colonization will have benefits, it seems strange not to cross some arbitrary line."

Poor Penguins! :(
 
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Picard

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Polar bears in Antartica?!? They will starve. Colonies of seal and penguin and other prey are extremely concentrated on isolated islands. It will never work. The food sources of polar bears in the Arctic are far more diverse, and diversty is not something Antartica has plenty of.

You try and transport a herd of buffalo, elephant, rhinos or giraffes to America. And then try and do that many times more.
 
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LazyLion

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Polar bears in Antartica. They will starve. colonies of seal and penguin and other prey are extremely concentrated on isolated islands. It will never work. The food sources of polar bears in the Arctic are far more diverse, and diversty is not something Antartica has plenty of.

You try and transport a herd of buffalo, elephant, rhinos or giraffes to America.

I think they know this... but it sounds like a desperate last resort. It is either do nothing and watch them die out. Or try this.
 

oronte

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Wouldn't the knock-on effect be worse? I mean couldn't the bears wipe out whatever life is there before they die too?
 

Deenem

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How well do Elephants travel?

Often wondered why they don't just herd the Kruger elephants somewhere else.
 

LazyLion

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Wouldn't the knock-on effect be worse? I mean couldn't the bears wipe out whatever life is there before they die too?

I thought about that... but Picard's point is valid... most of the wildlife is very spread out in the Antarctic, so I can't see the Polar bears wiping them out.
 

LazyLion

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How well do Elephants travel?

Often wondered why they don't just herd the Kruger elephants somewhere else.

They do travel well, but there is no direct ground link between Kruger and the places that they want to move them to. So then moving them becomes very expensive. Especially if they try to retain their family structures.
 

Voicy

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That would completely ruin my polar bear joke :(

Q: "Why don't polar bears eat penguins?"

A: "Because theyre on opposite sides of the earth."
 

werries2

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Alternatively, relocate them to a Zoo. Get as many DNA samples for diversity, and reintroduce them 100 years or so down the line into the wild again.
 

Deenem

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Alternatively, relocate them to a Zoo. Get as many DNA samples for diversity, and reintroduce them 100 years or so down the line into the wild again.

What makes you think there will ice in a 100 years?

By then Antarctic might be new Mauritius :cool:
 

werries2

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100 years are just an educated guess, taking the ice age cycles into account. We are due for one soon (100-1000 years away) :p

Mauritius is still a bit far from the polar caps, unless the earth falls over ;)
 

Lino

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Dumb question here, but how on earth do you move a Polar Bear? You can't just say "Come here boy, now that's a good little bear"
 
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Picard

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Dumb question here, but how on earth do you move a Polar Bear? You can't just say "Come here boy, now that's a good little bear"

Send in a 5yo girl to do the job. She will manage it just fine. They love bears.
 

Lino

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Send in a 5yo girl to do the job. She will manage it just fine. They love bears.

Lol, never thought of that.

I think moving animals around like this will cause more problems in the long run.
 

waynegohl

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bring those bears here to cape town its flippin freezing here at my work.
 

w1z4rd

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100 years are just an educated guess, taking the ice age cycles into account. We are due for one soon (100-1000 years away) :p

Mauritius is still a bit far from the polar caps, unless the earth falls over ;)

You wont believe how quasi close your information is to whats really happening. Ice age is a bad word. Use climate change or polar shift.
 

chiskop

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Send in a 5yo girl to do the job. She will manage it just fine. They love bears.

When she was three, I asked my daughter what she wanted to be when she grew up. "Um, a polar bear, I think." :D

But yes, I'm worried about the penguins. :eek:
 

werries2

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You wont believe how quasi close your information is to whats really happening. Ice age is a bad word. Use climate change or polar shift.

Indeed Ice age is a bad word to use, but in a general public discussion more people know exactly what you mean instead of using terms such as "polar shift". As part of my phd thesis I visited the Antarctic shelf, and in all honesty it is breaking up (melting) at such a great speed that I fear relocating polar bears there will also be only a short term (100-500 year) sollution.
 

Voicy

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Aren't we due for another magnetic flip sometime soon?
 
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