[MARMAM] New paper: Diet composition and body condition of polar bears in relation to sea ice habitat in the Canadian High Arctic

Katie Florko katieflorko at gmail.com
Sun Jun 13 17:42:22 PDT 2021


My co-authors and I are pleased to announce the publication of our paper in
Polar Biology:

Florko, K.R.N, Thiemann, G.W., Bromaghin, J.F., Richardson, E.S. Diet
composition and body condition of polar bears (*Ursus maritimus*) in
relation to sea ice habitat in the Canadian High Arctic. *Polar Biology*,
doi: 10.1007/s00300-021-02891-8



Polar bears (*Ursus maritimus*) rely on sea ice for hunting marine mammal
prey. Declining sea ice conditions associated with climate warming have
negatively affected polar bears, especially in the southern portion of
their range. At higher latitudes, the transition from multi-year ice to
thinner annual ice has been hypothesized to increase biological
productivity and potentially improve polar bear foraging conditions. To
investigate this possibility, we used quantitative fatty acid signature
analysis to characterize the diet composition of 148 polar bears in two
high-latitude subpopulations from 2012 to 2014: (1) Viscount Melville
Sound, where little is known about marine mammal ecology, and (2) Northern
Beaufort Sea, a subpopulation considered stable with comparatively more
ecological data. We used adipose tissue lipid content as an index of body
condition. To characterize long-term habitat conditions, we examined trends
in sea ice metrics from 1979 to 2014 in both regions. Although the diets of
bears in both subpopulations were dominated by ringed seal (*Pusa
hispida,* mean
biomass consumption = 45%), bears in Viscount Melville Sound showed higher
proportional consumption of beluga whale (*Delphinapterus leucas*; mean
biomass consumption = 37%) than any other polar bear subpopulation studied
to date. Although the three-year duration of our study precludes long-term
insights, relatively lighter sea ice conditions in Viscount Melville Sound
were associated with reduced consumption of preferred prey (i.e., ringed
seal), especially among female polar bears. Further, polar bears in
Viscount Melville Sound were in poorer body condition than those in the
Northern Beaufort Sea. Our results do not indicate that declining sea ice
has had any positive effect on polar bear foraging at high-latitudes.

Keywords: Beaufort Sea, beluga whale, foraging ecology, quantitative fatty
acid signature analysis (QFASA), ringed seal, Viscount Melville Sound

Best regards,

Katie Florko


Katie Florko, PhD Candidate

Statistical Ecology Research Group

Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries

University of British Columbia

Twitter: @kflorko

Email: katieflorko at gmail.com
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