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This article is from the In-Depth Report The Future of the Poles

Life at the Poles: Eight Polar Animals That Face the Promise and Peril of Climate Change

When sea ice disappears some polar inhabitants advance, whereas others retreat



Hugh Ducklow

Polar bears and penguins get all the attention but there's more than large, fuzzy and feathered animals thriving at the frozen antipodes of our planet. Both of Earth's polar environments host rich webs of plants and animals—and all of these inhabitants face a changing clime.

A warming global climate may favor species that don't intimately depend on ice that floats on the sea to hunt or are more versatile in what they can eat as well as those able to thrive in higher temperatures. Although it is inevitable that some flora and fauna will go extinct in the coming years, experts agree that the poles will not become a dead zone. There will still be life, but the residents will be different.

"In a very short amount of time, you're going to drastically rearrange that ecosystem," says Brendan Kelly, a marine biologist at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau. "There will be some biological community there, it just won't look like anything like what's been there."

Slide Show: Endangered Animals of the Poles

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