Polar bear and snow geese populations come into contact in the Hudson Bay. Here, some bears routinely live on land for 4-5 months of the year, subsisting on fat reserves. The new research shows that the effects of climate change will bring additional sources of food as the movement of both populations begins earlier each spring. Rockwell and his graduate student, Linda Gormezano, calculated that the rate of change in ice breakup is, on average, 0.72 days earlier each year, and that hatching time is also moving forward by 0.16 days each year. Current trends indicate that the arrival of polar bears will overlap the mean hatching period in 3.6 years, and egg consumption could become a routine, reliable option. At this point, a bear would need to consume the eggs of 43 nests to replace the energy gained from the average day of hunting seals. But within a decade, because timing changes would put bears in contact with even more nests with younger embryos (younger embryos are more nutritious), a bear would only need to consume the eggs of 34 nests to get the same amount of energy.
"Polar bears went through the Eemian 125,000 years ago, when sea level was 4-6 meters higher than it is now and trees lived above the Arctic Circle. They've been through warming before," says Rockwell. "I just read a piece in Natural History with a quote from Ilkoo Angutikjuak that sums this up: 'If the changes continuethe animals will adapt. I've heard that because they depend on sea ice, polar bears will go extinct, but I don't believe itPolar bears might get skinnier and some might die, but I don't think they will go extinct.'"
|Contact: Kristin Elise Phillips|
American Museum of Natural History