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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps14635

Assessing the population consequences of disturbance and climate change for the Pacific walrus

Devin L. Johnson*, Joseph M. Eisaguirre, Rebecca L. Taylor, Joel L. Garlich-Miller

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Climate change and anthropogenic disturbance are increasingly affecting wildlife at a global scale. Predicting how varying types and degrees of disturbance may interact to influence population dynamics is a key management challenge. Population Consequences of Disturbance (PCoD) models provide a framework to link effects of anthropogenic disturbance on an individual’s behavior and physiology to population-level changes. In the present study, we develop a Pacific walrus (Odobenus rosmarus divergens) PCoD model to encompass the population-level effects of both anthropogenic disturbance and climate change. As the Arctic becomes increasingly ice-free, walruses spend more time at coastal (vs. ice-based) haulouts, from which they must expend more energy to reach foraging areas, and where they have an elevated risk of mortality. Concurrently, sea ice loss is increasing the anthropogenic footprint in the Arctic (e.g. fisheries, shipping, energy exploration) which creates additional disturbance. We applied the PCoD model to 4 scenarios (ranging from optimistic to pessimistic) which incorporate different global sea ice model projections along with varying degrees of anthropogenic disturbance. All scenarios indicated a decline in Pacific walrus vital rates to the end of the 21st century, but our results demonstrated that the intensity of that decline could be mitigated by global efforts to reduce carbon emissions, along with local management and conservation efforts to protect important coastal haulouts and foraging grounds. In summary, we introduced a flexible PCoD modeling framework in a novel context which will prove useful to researchers studying species threatened by rapid environmental change.