Research Focus

Polar Bear Behaviors and Energetics

My research is examining the physiology of wild and captive polar bears. In particular, I am quantifying the behaviors and energetic rates of polar bears to examine habitat use and the effect that declining sea ice conditions may have on polar bear energetic rates.

Background: Polar bears are the largest living terrestrial carnivore. Recent declines in sea ice have been linked to reductions in body condition, survival, and population size of polar bears.

Projections of global polar bear populations suggest that nearly two-thirds of the world’s polar bear populations may be lost by mid-century, primarily due to projected declines in sea ice. Reduced feeding opportunities of ringed seals is thought to be the greatest threat to polar bears, but increased energy expenditures and increased movement rates are also of concern. Field metabolic rates and the daily energetic costs of foraging or other behaviors in polar bears are currently unknown. To better understand polar bear habitat use and improve projections of the effects of climate change on global polar bear populations, quantitative data on polar bear foraging and energetic rates are needed.

My Research:

Using recently developed tagging technology, I am quantifying polar bear habitat use and the energetic costs of adult female polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea. This study will provide the quantitative documentation of foraging effort in wild polar bears and the first measurements of the energetic costs of swimming in polar bears. I am evaluating the energetic costs of adult female polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea in relation to habitat, behavior, and during differing seasons. This research will serve to identify important sea ice habitats for polar bears and examine how habitat conditions and seasons affect polar bear behaviors and energetic rates. I am further examining the effects that projected declines in sea ice conditions may have on polar bear behaviors and energetic rates and the implications for survival and reproductive success.

This is a collaborative project being conducted by researchers at the US Geological Survey and the University of California, Santa Cruz. Additional funding has been provided by Conservation Grants from the International Association for Bear Research and Management, Polar Bears InternationalPoint Defiance Zoo & Aquarium Dr. Holly Reed Conservation Fund, SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, and a Graduate Student Research Award from the North Pacific Research Board.