Bioenergetics and population dynamics of polar bears past, present, and future: Understanding the effects of climate change
In the Arctic, climate change is leading to declines in seasonal sea-ice cover. Polar bears are increasingly at-risk from sea-ice loss because they use the ice as a platform to hunt seals, their preferred food source. When the ice retreats seasonally, bears rely on their stored energy reserves as fuel, but climate-driven changes in sea-ice melt and refreezing have forced bears to go for longer periods without access to seals. With temperatures expected to increase, it is important to know how polar bear populations will respond to never-before-seen declines in sea ice. This research aims to understand how bears allocate their energy towards survival and reproduction across the year, and then use this knowledge to predict how populations across the Arctic will respond to scenarios of future sea-ice loss. This insight on how future polar bear populations will fare under climate change will directly benefit conservation efforts by the partner organization, Polar Bears International, and aid in the proactive management of vulnerable polar bear populations.