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USGS Changing Arctic Ecosystems: Enhancing forecasts of polar bear and walrus population response to a rapidly changing Arctic ecosystem (Enhanced polar bear habitat models)

Utilizing GPS and non-collar radio tags to enhance polar bear habitat models and quantify age and sex-specific energetic and behavioral response to changes in sea ice and food

Principal Investigators:
Durner, George M.

Project Contacts:
Hilderbrand, Grant V.,, 907-786-7076

Status: completed
Start Year: 2012
End Year: 2015


USGS Mission Area and Program:
EcosystemsWildlife Program

Major Initiatives:
USGS - Changing Arctic Ecosystems Initiative

Web Links:
Chukchi Sea Polar Bear Location Data 1985-1996
Organization Website:
Polar Bear Research
Project Website:
Changing Arctic Ecosystems
Increased land use by Chukchi Sea polar bears in relation to changing sea ice conditions


Satellite radio telemetry has been an important tool for assessing distribution, activity levels and habitat use patterns polar bears. This information is necessary for development of polar bear energetic profiles. Since 1985, these data have been derived primarily from Doppler satellite telemetry. Doppler satellite telemetry provides relatively course-grained data on polar bear movements. Although these data have provided the core of our understanding of polar bear habitat use patterns, the much finer resolution movements data available from GPS transmitters combined with new finer-grained satellite imagery promises refined assessments and projections. Additionally, past telemetry efforts have been limited to adult female polar bears, the only population segment that can safely wear radio collars. Knowledge of spatial patterns of adult males and sub-adults of both sexes would help reduce the uncertainty of 21st century population projections. To quantify sex, age, and seasonal differences we will develop glue-on and other alternative methods of GPS tag attachment that can be applied to all sex and age groups. This is an important step in development of new, less invasive methods for study of polar bears. GPS tagging of representatives of all sex and age groups will become an integral component of ongoing work in each field season and will provide additional insights into the actual mechanisms affecting polar bear health and resulting population vital rates.

Project metadata record

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