As polar bears adapt to a warming Arctica frozen seascape that cleaves earlier each springthey may find relief in an unlikely source: snow goose eggs. New calculations show that changes in the timing of sea-ice breakup and of snow goose nesting near the western Hudson Bay could provide at least some polar bears with an alternative source of food. This new analysis appears in Polar Biology.
"Over 40 years, six subadult male bears were seen among snow goose nests, and four of them were sighted after the year 2000," says Robert Rockwell, a research associate in Ornithology at the American Museum of Natural History and a Professor of Biology at City College at City University of New York. "I've seen a subadult male eat eider duck eggs whole or press its nose against the shell, break it, and eat the contents. This is similar to a different research group's observations of polar bears eating Barnacle Goose eggs on Svalbard, an island near Norway."
Polar bears, Ursus maritimus, are listed as a threatened species under the United States' Endangered Species Act and are classified as "vulnerable with declining populations" under IUCN's Red List. Polar bears' habitat rings the Arctic south of 88˚ latitude. Most of this area is sea ice from which bears hunt seals, although the breakup of sea ice over the summer forces some bears to move north, to pack ice, or onto land. More often, it is subadult males that are pushed to these less ideal conditions, where they live, in part, off stored fat reserves.
When bears switch to the tundra in some areas, they may enter the nesting grounds of snow geese. Goose eggs and developing embryos are a highly nutritious source of food to opportunistic foragers. Although geese populations were in decline in the early 1900s, the population rebounded and expanded. There are now too many geese for the Arctic to support in the summer, mainly because their over-wintering habitat has increased to cover
|Contact: Kristin Elise Phillips|
American Museum of Natural History