Research Focus

Polar Bear Ecophysiology

My research examines the ecophysiology of polar bears. I quantify the behaviors, foraging rates, and energy demands of polar bears to understand the effect of declines in Arctic sea ice on polar bears.

Background: Polar bears are the largest living terrestrial carnivore. Declines in Arctic 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 one to 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 driven by increased movement rates may further challenge polar bear reproductive success and survival. To better understand polar bear habitat use and improve projections of the effects of climate change on global polar bear populations, my research examines polar bear foraging rates and energy demands in response to sea ice conditions.

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 research is providing quantitative measures of foraging demands in wild polar bears. This research is identifying important sea ice habitats for polar bears and examining 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 their survival and reproductive success.

This is a collaborative project being conducted by researchers at the US Geological Survey, San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, 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.