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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13293

Patterns of sea ice drift and polar bear (Ursus maritimus) movement in Hudson Bay

Natasha J. Klappstein*, Ron R. Togunov, Jody R. Reimer, Nicholas J. Lunn, Andrew E. Derocher

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Sea ice habitats are highly dynamic, and ice drift may affect the energy expenditure of travelling animals. Several studies in the high Arctic have reported increased ice drift speeds, and consequently, polar bears Ursus maritimus in these areas expended more energy on counter-ice movement for station-keeping. However, little is known about the spatiotemporal dynamics of ice drift in Hudson Bay and its implications for the declining Western Hudson Bay polar bear subpopulation. Using sea ice drift data from 1987–2015 and polar bear satellite telemetry location data from 2004–2015, we examined trends in drift speeds in Hudson Bay, polar bear movement relative to drift, and assessed annual and individual variation. In contrast to other areas of the Arctic, we did not find an increase in ice drift speed over the period examined. However, variability in ice drift speed increased over time, which suggests reduced habitat predictability. Polar bear movement direction was not strongly counter to ice drift in any month, and ice drift speed and direction had little effect on bear movement rates and thus, energy expenditure. On an annual scale, we found individuals varied in their exposure and response to ice drift, which may contribute to variability in body condition. However, the lack of a long-term increase in ice drift speed suggests this is unlikely to be the main factor affecting the body condition decline observed in the Western Hudson Bay subpopulation. Our results contrast findings in other subpopulations and demonstrate the need for subpopulation-specific research and risk evaluation.