[MARMAM] New publication on polar bear feeding habits using stable isotopes and total mercury in hair

Jenny Stern jenny.stern1 at gmail.com
Tue Nov 2 16:01:10 PDT 2021

Dear colleagues,

On behalf of my co-authors, I am pleased to announce our new publication:

Stern, J.H., Laidre, K.L., Born, E.W., Wiig, Ø., Sonne, C., Dietz, R., Fisk, A. and McKinney, M.A., 2021. Feeding habits of Baffin Bay polar bears Ursus maritimus: insight from stable isotopes and total mercury in hair. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 677, pp.233-244.

https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13864 <https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13864>

https://www.int-res.com/abstracts/meps/v677/p233-244/ <https://www.int-res.com/abstracts/meps/v677/p233-244/>

ABSTRACT: Loss of sea ice brought on by climate change affects polar bear Ursus maritimus access to prey. Here we investigated variation in feeding habits of the Baffin Bay (BB) polar bear subpopulation in relation to sea ice, habitat use, season, and demography using hair carbon (δ13 C), nitrogen (δ15 N), and sulfur (δ34 S) stable isotope values and total mercury (THg) concentrations as ecological tracers. We analyzed hair samples from BB polar bears (n = 131) of all age and sex classes live-captured in West Greenland during the spring in 2009−2013. BB polar bears occupied a narrow isotopic space, suggesting limited variation in carbon sources and trophic position within the subpopulation. THg concentrations (median ± SE: 5.1 ± 0.2, range: 0.3−12.5 μg g −1 dry weight, DW) were related to age class, and nearly half exceeded the suggested threshold for neurological effects in polar bears at 5.4 μg g −1 DW. Although distinct coastal and offshore space-use strategies have been reported for BB polar bears, our results suggest that both strategies lead to similar carbon sources and trophic positions. We found seasonal variation in δ13 C and δ34 S across both space-use strategies, with δ34 S suggesting that all BB polar bears may prey on a higher proportion of benthic-feeding bearded seals Erignathus barbatus in late summer relative to spring. Despite wide fluctuations in inter-annual sea ice conditions and differences in space-use strategies among individuals, stable isotope values and THg concentrations suggested limited variation in feeding habits among BB polar bears. The variation of habitat tracers (δ13 C and δ34 S) was related to season, whereas trophic tracer (δ15 N and THg) variation was driven by demographic group. The specialized BB polar bear diet suggests limited feeding plasticity under continued climate warming.

Please feel free to contact me at jhstern at uw.edu <mailto:jhstern at uw.edu> if you have any questions.

Jennifer Stern 


Jennifer H. Stern, PhD Student
Laidre Lab <https://staff.washington.edu/klaidre/lab/>
School of Aquatic & Fishery Sciences
University of Washington

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