The ecology of polar bears in relation to sea ice dynamics

  • Author / Creator
    Cherry, Seth G.
  • 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.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2011
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Roth, James (Biological Sciences, University of Manitoba)
    • Bayne, Erin (Biological Sciences)
    • Nielsen, Scott (Renewable Resources)
    • Stirling, Ian (Environment Canada)
    • Hobson, Keith (Environment Canada)
    • Schindler, David (Biological Sciences)