From 2000 to 2013, use of land as a seasonal habitat by polar bears (Ursus maritimus) of the southern Beaufort Sea (SB) subpopulation substantially increased. This onshore use has been linked to reduced spatial and temporal availability of sea ice, as well as to the availability of subsistence‐harvested bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) bone piles. Here, we evaluated the role of climate conditions on consumption of traditional ice‐associated prey relative to onshore bowhead whale bone piles. We determined seasonal and interannual trends in the diets of SB polar bears using fatty acid‐based analysis during this period of increasing land use. Diet estimates of 569 SB polar bears from 2004 to 2012 showed high seasonal fluctuations in the proportions of prey consumed. Higher proportions of bowhead whale, as well as ringed seal (Pusa hispida) and beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas), were estimated to occur in the winter–spring diet, while higher proportions of bearded seal (Erignathus barbatus) were estimated for summer–fall diets. Trends in the annual mean proportions of individual prey items were not found in either period, except for significant declines in the proportion of beluga in spring‐sampled bears. Nonetheless, in years following a high winter Arctic oscillation index, proportions of ice‐associated ringed seal were lower in the winter–spring diets of adult females and juveniles. Proportions of bowhead increased in the winter–spring diets of adult males with the number of ice‐free days over the continental shelf. In one or both seasons, polar bears that were in better condition were estimated to have consumed less ringed seal and/or more bowhead whale than those in worse condition. Therefore, climate variation over this recent period appeared to influence the extent of onshore vs. on‐ice food use, which in turn, appeared to be linked to fluctuating condition of SB polar bears.
Additional publication details
|Publication Subtype||Journal Article|
|Title||Temporal complexity of southern Beaufort Sea polar bear diets during a period of increasing land use|
|Publisher||Ecological Society of America|
|Contributing office(s)||Alaska Science Center Biology MFEB|
|Description||Article e01633; 14 p.|
|Other Geospatial||Beaufort Sea|