The ringed seal population is forecast to decline by 50-99% by the end of the century as adverse weather conditions continue to threaten snow formation in the Arctic.
While theringed seals(Phoca hispida) are not categorized as endangered species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the survival of this mammal is beginning to worry the scientific community.
With less snow, these mammals are being forced to give birth on the surface of the ice, increasing the mortality of their young at birth.
Seals dig shelters - with direct access also from the water, which is below the surface - as a strategy to isolate themselves from the extreme cold and to protect their young from predators until weaning.
"It was surprising to see that in the future there will be little snow available for burrowing," says Jody Reimer, lead author of the study published in the journal.Ecological Applicationsand PhD candidate at the University of Alberta.
Scientists are alarmed by the projections of mathematical models about the continuity of this species on earth.
"When we included previously published demographic estimates in our model, it predicted that the population would decline dramatically, which is inconsistent with the fact that there are still ringed seals in that area," Reimer says.
The study predicts a general decline in the seal population, but the greatest reduction will be in juvenile specimens. Fewer young will reach adolescence. According to experts, each generation will shrink and will particularly affect juveniles who will no longer reach the long life expectancy of 43 years of adults.
The consequences of climate change
Due to their dependence on sea ice and snow, these seals are good indicators of climate change. They are very abundant and have a wide geographic distribution and are therefore exposed to a wide variety of impacts of climate change.
Given their sensitivity to snow cover, these animals provide information on the health of Arctic marine ecosystems. Scientists insist that it is also necessary to understand the factors that affect the survival of adults to assess the viability of the population with changes in the Arctic climate.
Reimer, Jody, et al. 2019. "Ringed seal demography in a changing climate"Ecological Applications. DOI: 10.1002 / eap.1855
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