MEPS 562:237-250 (2016)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11950

Influence of sea ice phenology on the movement ecology of ringed seals across their latitudinal range

David J. Yurkowski1,*, Christina A. D. Semeniuk1, Lois A. Harwood2, Aqqalu Rosing-Asvid3, Rune Dietz4, Tanya M. Brown5, Sydney Clackett1, Alice Grgicak-Mannion1, Aaron T. Fisk1, Steven H. Ferguson6

1Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, University of Windsor, 401 Sunset Avenue, Windsor, Ontario N9B 3P4, Canada
2Department of Fisheries and Oceans, 301-5204 50th Avenue, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories X1A 1E2, Canada
3Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, Kivioq 2, PO Box 570, 3900 Nuuk, Greenland
4Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, Arctic Research Centre, Frederiksborgvej 399, 4000 Roskilde, Denmark
5Department of Geography, Memorial University of Newfoundland, 230 Elizabeth Ave., St. John’s, Newfoundland A1B 3X9, Canada
6Freshwater Institute, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, 501 University Crescent, Winnipeg, Manitoba R3T 2N6, Canada
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Environmental variation influences resource distribution, thereby affecting animal movement and foraging decisions. Climate change is altering environmental processes worldwide, but particularly in the Arctic, where changes in the phenology of sea ice have been redistributing resources across space and time. How polar marine predators such as ringed seals Pusa hispida hispida, whose ecology is tightly tied to sea ice, respond to different sea ice dynamics across large spatial scales is generally unknown. Here, behavioural states (resident and traveling) were estimated using state-space models on adult (n = 45) and subadult (n = 85) ringed seal satellite telemetry tracks from 6 Arctic locations. Tagged ringed seals spanned a wide latitudinal (56.54° to 75.58°N) and sea ice phenological range from short (1 to 2 mo) to longer (6 mo) ice-free periods. We assessed the influences of age class and several intra- and inter-annual environmental variables on ringed seal movement ecology. Both adults and subadults spent most of the ice-free season in a resident state (93 and 77%, respectively). A latitudinal gradient was characterised, where longer ice-free seasons and less inter-annual variability in sea ice phenology at lower latitudes were related to ringed seals spending more time in a resident state than their conspecifics at higher latitudes (90 versus 58%, respectively), where the ice-free season was shorter and sea ice phenology between years was less synchronous. Ringed seals are responding to latitudinal differences in sea ice phenology which affect prey distribution, suggesting plasticity in their foraging decisions and spatiotemporal differences in prey distribution across the rapidly changing Arctic.


KEY WORDS: Animal movement · Spatial ecology · Arctic · Foraging behaviour · Climate change · Marine mammal


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Cite this article as: Yurkowski DJ, Semeniuk CAD, Harwood LA, Rosing-Asvid A and others (2016) Influence of sea ice phenology on the movement ecology of ringed seals across their latitudinal range. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 562:237-250. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11950

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