Northern polar regions have warmed more than other parts of the globe potentiallyamplifying the effects of climate change on biological communities. Ice-free seasons are becoming longer in many areas, which has reduced the time available to polar bears (Ursus maritimus) to hunt for seals and hampered bears' ability to meet their energetic demands. In this study, we examined polar bears' use of an ancillary prey resource, eggs of colonial nesting birds, in relation to diminishing sea ice coverage in a low latitude region of the Canadian Arctic. Long-term monitoring reveals that bear incursions onto common eider (Somateria mollissima) and thick-billed murre (Uria lomvia) nesting colonies have increased greater than sevenfold since the 1980s and that there is an inverse correlation between ice season length and bear presence. In surveys encompassing more than 1000 km of coastline during years of record low ice coverage (2010-2012), we encountered bears or bear sign on 34% of eider colonies and estimated greater egg loss as a consequence of depredation by bears than by more customary nest predators, such as foxes and gulls. Our findings demonstrate how changes in abiotic conditions caused by climate change have altered predator-prey dynamics and are leading to cascading ecological impacts in Arctic ecosystems.

Additional Metadata
Keywords Arctic, Bird, Climate change, Foraging, Polar bear, Predator-prey dynamics
Persistent URL dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2013.3128
Journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Citation
Iverson, S.A. (Samuel A.), Gilchrist, H.G, Smith, P.A, Gaston, A.J. (Anthony J.), & Forbes, M. (2014). Longer ice-free seasons increase the risk of nest depredation by polar bears for colonial breeding birds in the Canadian Arctic. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 281(1779). doi:10.1098/rspb.2013.3128