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Understanding and Forecasting the Response of Polar Bear Populations to a Rapidly Diminishing Sea Ice Environment

Long-term study of the response of polar bears to climate-induced sea ice loss.


The polar bear is recognized worldwide as a vulnerable species due to loss of its required sea ice habitats. USGS science played a central role in informing the decision to list the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2008. This science was founded in understanding gained from long-term studies of the southern Beaufort Sea (SB) population, one of 19 worldwide, and one of only two populations with long-term data. In these studies, USGS documented a negative relationship between length of the open water season over the continental shelf and population growth rate. Applying future sea ice conditions to the relationship between sea ice availability and population growth rate allowed us to project a future trajectory of the population. We are monitoring the survival and habitat use of the SB population to determine whether the habitat base for this population changes as projected and whether the population responds to those habitat changes as we projected in 2007. Information about how polar bears in this population respond to sea ice loss will inform projections for the worldwide population.

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Page Last Modified: December 06 2016 16:16:21.