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Polar Bear Inbreeding Is At 'Alarming' Levels & It's Increasing Their Risk Of Extinction

Melting ice in the Arctic Sea is causing more inbreeding between polar bears, according to researchers.

The team of researchers studied the bears on remote Arctic islands in Svalbard, north of Norway, and their findings show that the genetic diversity of the animals has dropped by as much as 10% compared to 20 years ago.

Why does this matter?

Researchers say the melting of sea ice and loss of habitat increases the rate of inbreeding.

A lack of genetic diversity is bad for bears because it makes them more vulnerable to various diseases and doesn't allow them to adapt to changes in the environment — such as rising temperatures, less sea ice and a smaller food supply.

Generally, a lack of genetic diversity in a species weakens them and causes, as the researchers say, an "elevated risk of extinction."

Snorre Hagen, of the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research, told iNews the findings were "alarming and worrisome."

"We were surprised to find such compelling evidence of loss of genetic diversity and gene flow in only about 20 years," he said.