Increased Arctic Sea Ice Drift Alters Polar Bear Movements and Energetics
Tuesday, 15 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Recent thinning of Arctic sea ice has increased its drift from currents and winds. Increased ice drift could affect movements and energy balance of polar bears (Ursus maritimus) which rely, almost exclusively, on this substrate for hunting seals. Foraging by polar bears is a relatively sedentary behavior, as they typically capture their main prey by waiting at breathing holes, where seals haul-out along leads, or by short-distance stalking. We examined the response of polar bears to ice drift in the Beaufort (BS) and Chukchi (CS) seas, and between two periods with different sea ice characteristics: 1987-1998 and 1999-2013. We used satellite-tracked adult female polar bear locations, standardized by a continuous-time correlated random walk, coupled with modeled ice drift, to estimate displacement and drift-corrected bear movements along east-west and north-south axes. Sea ice drift in both regions increased with greater westward and more extreme northward and southward rates from 1987-1998 to 1999-2013. Polar bears responded with greater eastward movements and, in the CS greater movements north and south. We show that efforts by polar bears to compensate for greater westward ice drift in recent years translated into a model-derived estimate of 5.7-7.2% increase in energy expenditure. We also estimated that polar bears increased their travel time 18-20% between the two time periods, suggesting time allocated to foraging was reduced. Increased energetic costs and travel time resulting from greater ice drift, in conjunction with ongoing habitat loss, suggest that recent changes to Arctic sea ice may affect movements and energy balance of polar bears.