Collar temperature sensor data reveal long-term patterns in southern Beaufort Sea polar bear den distribution on pack ice and land

Marine Ecology Progress Series
By: , and 

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Abstract

In response to a changing climate, many species alter habitat use. Polar bears Ursus maritimus in the southern Beaufort Sea have increasingly used land for maternal denning. To aid in detecting denning behavior, we developed an objective method to identify polar bear denning events using temperature sensor data collected by satellite-linked transmitters deployed on adult females between 1985 and 2013. We then applied this method to determine whether southern Beaufort Sea polar bears have continued to increase land denning with recent sea-ice loss and examined whether sea-ice conditions affect the distribution of dens between pack-ice and coastal substrates. Because land use in summer and autumn has also increased, we examined potential associations between summering substrate and denning substrate. Statistical process control methods applied to temperature-sensor data identified denning events with 94.5% accuracy in comparison to direct observations (n = 73) and 95.7% accuracy relative to subjective classifications based on temperature, location, and activity sensor data (n = 116). We found an increase in land-based denning during the study period. The frequency of land denning was directly related to the distance that sea ice retreated from the coast. Among females that denned, all 14 that summered on land subsequently denned there, whereas 29% of the 69 bears summering on ice denned on land. These results suggest that denning on land may continue to increase with further loss of sea ice. While the effects that den substrate have on nutrition, energetics, and reproduction are unclear, more polar bears denning onshore will likely increase human-bear interactions.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Collar temperature sensor data reveal long-term patterns in southern Beaufort Sea polar bear den distribution on pack ice and land
Series title Marine Ecology Progress Series
DOI 10.3354/meps12000
Volume 564
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher Inter-Research
Contributing office(s) Alaska Science Center Biology MFEB
Description 14 p.
First page 211
Last page 224
Country United States
State Alaska
Other Geospatial Beaufort Sea