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ESR prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr01140

Modeling ringed seal Pusa hispida habitat and lair emergence timing in the eastern Bering and Chukchi Seas

Jessica M. Lindsay*, Kristin L. Laidre, Paul B. Conn, Erin E. Moreland, Peter L. Boveng

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Ringed seals Pusa hispida are reliant on snow and sea ice for denning, and a better understanding of ringed seal habitat selection and timing of emergence from snow dens (also called lairs) is needed to quantify and predict effects of climate change in the Arctic. We used generalized additive models to assess relationships between ringed seal counts, from spring aerial surveys in the Bering Sea (2012 and 2013) and Chukchi Sea (2016), and spatiotemporal covariates including survey date, remotely sensed snow and sea ice values, and short-term weather data. We produced separate models for total ringed seal counts and for pup counts within each region. Our models showed that in both areas, total ringed seal counts increased over the course of the spring especially after 15 May, indicating emergence from lairs and/or the onset of basking behavior. For the more northerly Chukchi Sea, we found a substantial unimodal effect of snow melt progression and a positive effect of snow depth on total ringed seal counts. In contrast, Bering Sea total ringed seal counts and pup counts in both regions were affected much more strongly by date than by habitat variables. Overall, our findings demonstrate that snow depth and melt play an important role in the timing of ringed seal den emergence, particularly in the Chukchi Sea, and suggest ringed seal denning may be affected by continued shifts in melt and snow depth associated with climate change.