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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 619:187-199 (2019)  -  DOI:

Temporal and intra-population patterns in polar bear foraging ecology in western Hudson Bay

Amy C. Johnson1,*, Keith A. Hobson2, Nicholas J. Lunn3, David McGeachy3, Evan S. Richardson4, Andrew E. Derocher1

1Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB T6G 2E9, Canada
2Department of Biology, Western University, London, ON N6A 5B7, Canada
3Environment and Climate Change Canada, CW-422 Biological Sciences Building, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB T6G 2E9, Canada
4Environment and Climate Change Canada, Winnipeg, MB R3C 4W2, Canada
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Climate-mediated sea ice declines have led to alterations in ecosystem composition, phenology, and primary productivity, potentially altering trophic dynamics in Arctic marine ecosystems. As one of the Arctic’s top predators and a species dependent on sea ice habitat for survival, polar bears Ursus maritimus are at risk of habitat loss from sea ice declines, and therefore have been used to monitor the effects of climate change in the Arctic. We used stable isotope (δ15N, δ13C) values of 806 hair samples collected from Western Hudson Bay (WH) polar bears from 1993-1994 and 2004-2016 to examine variations in isotopic niche size and diet within the population, patterns in foraging ecology over time, and the relationship between hair isotopic values and sea ice dynamics. We found significant variation in isotopic values between age- and sex-classes. Adult males had the highest δ15N and δ13C values and the largest isotopic niches, reflecting broader diets. In contrast, adult females (with and without cubs) and subadults differed isotopically from adult males, and their relatively smaller isotopic niches potentially make them more vulnerable to habitat change. Population δ15N values significantly increased over time from 1993 (mean ± SD: 18.8 ± 0.5‰) to 2016 (19.5 ± 0.7‰), while δ13C values significantly decreased from 1993 (-16.2 ± 0.3‰) until 2011 (-17.7 ± 0.2‰) before increasing until 2016 (-17.0 ± 0.3‰). Values of δ13C were significantly correlated with length of the open-water period, suggesting that this apex predator’s foraging ecology was affected by climate change. We suggest that WH polar bears may have undergone a significant dietary niche shift and/or that the baseline isotopic values in this ecosystem may have changed over the last 25 yr in response to climate change.

KEY WORDS: Stable isotopes · Polar bear · Ursus maritimus · Foraging ecology · Arctic marine ecology · Western Hudson Bay

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Cite this article as: Johnson AC, Hobson KA, Lunn NJ, McGeachy D, Richardson ES, Derocher AE (2019) Temporal and intra-population patterns in polar bear foraging ecology in western Hudson Bay. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 619:187-199.

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