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The ecology of polar bears in relation to sea ice dynamics Open Access


Other title
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Cherry, Seth G.
Supervisor and department
Derocher, Andrew (Biological Sciences)
Examining committee member and department
Bayne, Erin (Biological Sciences)
Nielsen, Scott (Renewable Resources)
Roth, James (Biological Sciences, University of Manitoba)
Schindler, David (Biological Sciences)
Hobson, Keith (Environment Canada)
Stirling, Ian (Environment Canada)
Department of Biological Sciences

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Recent research indicates climate change will be amplified in Polar Regions, which will cause decreases to sea ice thickness and extent throughout the Arctic. Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) will be directly affected by changes to Arctic sea ice conditions because they rely on the ice substrate for numerous aspects of their life history. Perhaps of most importance, polar bears use the sea ice platform to access their main prey, pagophilic seals. Determining specific effects of climate-induced environmental change on polar bears will require monitoring at numerous spatiotemporal scales and across various levels of biological organization. In this dissertation I used and refined a variety of ecological monitoring tools that evaluated the effects of seasonal and longer-term unidirectional sea ice changes to various aspects of polar bear ecology. At a molecular level, I used urea to creatinine ratios in polar bear blood to show that an increased number of polar bears were in a physiological fasting state during spring captures in 2005-2006 compared to the mid-1980s. These changes corresponded to broad-scale changes in Arctic sea ice composition, which may have altered prey availability. I also used measurements of naturally occurring stable isotopes (δ13C, δ15N) in polar bear tissues to examine their diet, which included both lipid-rich blubber and the proteinaceous tissues of their marine mammal prey. Because the proportion of proteins and lipids consumed likely depended on prey type and size, it was necessary to consider metabolic routing of these macromolecules separately when using isotope mixing models to determine and monitor polar bear diet. I also monitored polar bear movement and migration behaviour at the population level. Specific landscape sea ice metrics corresponded to seasonal population migration patterns and fidelity to particular geographic regions. Trends in the timing of these seasonal population migration patterns were likely associated with climate-induced changes to sea ice dynamics. Finally, I examined migration behaviour in relation to local sea ice dynamics in individual polar bears and demonstrated a mechanistic understanding of the relationship between sea ice and polar bear migration patterns.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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