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A prolific investigation into the survival, adaptation and evolution of polar bears during the ice age and in the present climate change situation.

The Battle with the Ice Age

Fossils discovered from the last Ice Age can provide valuable insights into the longevity and adaptation of polar bears. Scientists have concluded that polar bears likely did not go extinct during the last Ice Age as they could survive in harsh conditions, including extreme cold and absence of their main food source - seals.

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These ancient polar bears, experts claim, were able to adapt to a terrestrial lifestyle when sea ice melted during summers, feeding upon reindeer, birds, and rodents. They could also scavenge from carcasses of larger animals that couldn’t adapt to the harsh weather conditions.

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Furthermore, the size of these polar bears was substantially larger. As they increasingly adopted a terrestrial lifestyle, the fossils of these polar bears started to show significant similarities with their cousin brown bears, signifying that they were evolving to adapt to the land environment.

Thus, the survival of ancient polar bears during the Ice Age signified their resilience, highlighting their incredible adapting abilities.

Present Climate Change Scenario

Fast forward to present days, the declining sea ice owing to climate change poses severe challenges to polar bears. Unlike in the Ice Age, the Arctic is now warming faster than any other region on the planet, causing the ice to melt at an alarming rate.

Ice plays a crucial role in the life of polar bears as it provides a platform from which they can hunt seals. The melting ice, hence, is leading to the declining number of seals, leaving the polar bears with limited availability of their main food source.

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However, recent studies have indicated that these magnanimous creatures are again showcasing their remarkable adaptation skills. They are increasingly resorting to their age-old terrestrial lifestyle, surviving by hunting on land as they did during the Ice Age.

However, their adaptation is not entirely without challenges. Due to the radical changes in their environment, they are at the brink of a severe food crisis.

Assessing the Crisis

The stems of the terrestrial plants, upon examination, have proven to be of little nutritional value for polar bears. They offer significantly less energy compared to fat-rich seals. Compensating the energy from the seals, the bears would have to consume a vast quantity of these plants which is practically impossible for them.

Moreover, the size of the modern polar bear is another challenge. Being smaller than their Ice Age predecessors, the present polar bears require comparatively less energy to survive. However, this also leaves them with less energy to hunt for their food, making their survival dependent on the availability of their prey.

Marked as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, polar bears face a grim future. With no sign of dwindling climate change, their existence hangs by a thread.

If the trends continue, the sustainability of these bears will become increasingly questionable, and a terrestrial lifestyle might not be enough to ensure their survival.

The Way Forward

Given the precarious situation, scientists are eager to devise strategies to ensure the survival of polar bears. They are studying over 200 rehabilitation cases where polar bears were taken into human care during times of crisis, mainly when seals were unavailable during the summer.

The studies indicate that even under extreme conditions, these bears have the potential to showcase remarkable survival rates. This comes with one crucial requirement – the bears should not lose more than 22% of their body mass during the summer months.

Additionally, by examining how polar bears survived during the Ice Age can also provide potential answers. If the polar bears could adapt once, they might be able to do it again, despite the harsher conditions.

While the path forward is challenging, if the past teaches us anything, it’s that polar bears are indeed hardy survivors. The fight for their survival in the face of climate change is still on.

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