Space use of a dominant Arctic vertebrate: Effects of prey, sea ice, and land on Pacific walrus resource selection

Biological Conservation
By: , and 

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Abstract

Sea ice dominates marine ecosystems in the Arctic, and recent reductions in sea ice may alter food webs throughout the region. Sea ice loss may also stress Pacific walruses (Odobenus rosmarus divergens), which feed on benthic macroinvertebrates in the Bering and Chukchi seas. However, no studies have examined the effects of sea ice on foraging Pacific walrus space use patterns. We tested a series of hypotheses that examined walrus foraging resource selection as a function of proximity to resting substrates and prey biomass. We quantified walrus prey biomass with 17 benthic invertebrate families, which included bivalves, polychaetes, amphipods, tunicates, and sipunculids. We included covariates for distance to sea ice and distance to land, and systematically developed a series of candidate models to examine interactions among benthic prey biomass and resting substrates. We ranked candidate models with Bayesian Information Criterion and made inferences on walrus resource selection based on the top-ranked model. Based on the top model, biomass of the bivalve family Tellinidae, distance to ice, distance to land, and the interaction of distances to ice and land all positively influenced walrus foraging resource selection. Standardized model coefficients indicated that distance to ice explained the most variation in walrus foraging resource selection followed by Tellinidae biomass. Distance to land and the interaction of distances to ice and land accounted for similar levels of variation. Tellinidae biomass likely represented an index of overall bivalve biomass, indicating walruses focused foraging in areas with elevated levels of bivalve and tellinid biomass. Our results also emphasize the importance of sea ice to walruses. Projected sea ice loss will increase the duration of the open water season in the Chukchi Sea, altering the spatial distribution of resting sites relative to current foraging areas and possibly affecting the spatial structure of benthic communities.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Space use of a dominant Arctic vertebrate: Effects of prey, sea ice, and land on Pacific walrus resource selection
Series title Biological Conservation
DOI 10.1016/j.biocon.2016.08.035
Volume 203
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Alaska Science Center Biology MFEB
Description 8 p.
First page 25
Last page 32
Country United States
State Alaska
Other Geospatial Chukchi Sea