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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13684

Effects of sea ice fragmentation on polar bear migratory movement in Hudson Bay

Brooke A. Biddlecombe*, Erin M. Bayne, Nicholas J. Lunn, David McGeachy, Andrew E. Derocher

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Habitat fragmentation can impede an animal’s ability to move through their habitat, affecting both local and long-distance movements. Each year polar bears (Ursus maritimus) migrate to refuge habitats on land or to multiyear ice as annual sea ice breaks up. We used polar bear telemetry location data from 39 adult female polar bears tracked in Hudson Bay in 2013 – 2018 during break-up (May 2 – July 23) to show variation in migratory movement and timing as break-up advances. We separated break-up into early and late periods and used standard deviation in temporal spatial autocorrelation (SASD) of sea ice concentration to quantify sea ice fragmentation. Higher spatial autocorrelation reflects dissimilarity in local habitat composition at a single point in time, while SASD reflects variation in local habitat composition over time. In late break-up, there was a significant positive correlation between polar bear path tortuosity and SASD. Individuals arrived on land significantly later when paths moved through sea ice with increasing SASD in late break-up. Reproductive status of adult female polar bears had no effect on the variability of sea ice an individual travelled through. SASD provides a means of summarizing the complexity and dynamics of sea ice habitat and can be used to understand variation in movement and ecology of ice-associated organisms.