How sea stars in the Arctic eat polar bears

At the bottom of the Arctic sea are hungry predators that can eat dead polar bears.

The voracious carnivore is the starfish, or starfish, and a new study by a national research team says they, along with polar bears, are the top predators of the Arctic marine ecosystem.

Co-author Remi Amiraux, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Manitoba, said benthic or benthic organisms are often not studied because they are generally considered lower in the food chain.

But research published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the ocean floor includes organisms across the entire food chain.

Sea stars in the family Pterasteridae come first, with research calling them “the benthic equivalent of the polar bear.”

“It’s a shift in our view of how the Arctic coastal food web works,” Amiraux said in an interview.

He said that the invertebrates, or invertebrates, living in the sediments of the Arctic seafloor are not only composed of herbivores that eat plants.

“You have a whole food web, including primary carnivores, herbivores and many carnivores. So it’s a lot more complicated than we thought,” Amiraux said.

The study’s authors say the “large carnivorous” Pterasteridae starfish thrive in this area “because of their evolutionary defense mechanisms related to the diets of other predators, including carcasses of mammals that live on the ocean floor.”

Amiraux says that although polar bears don’t eat starfish, “the opposite is quite true.”

“Actually, when a polar bear dies, it can be eaten by a starfish,” Amiraux said.

The researchers examined 1,580 samples from wildlife around Nunavut’s Southampton Island in Hudson Bay to understand how the ecosystem works and help regulators protect and conserve marine life in the area. area.

The Southampton Island area has been identified as an area of ​​interest for a Marine Protected Area designation by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Amiraux said food webs provide insight into how ecosystems work.

He notes that although the study focused on one region of the Arctic, starfish are found worldwide, so it’s likely that they “have the same structure or the same food web everywhere on the bottom.” sea.”

“I don’t think that’s special about the coastal environment,” he said. “We can almost see that in any environment.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on January 28, 2023.

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