Polar Biology

, Volume 38, Issue 6, pp 879–893 | Cite as

Shifts in female polar bear (Ursus maritimus) habitat use in East Greenland

  • Kristin L. Laidre
  • Erik W. Born
  • Patrick Heagerty
  • Øystein Wiig
  • Harry Stern
  • Rune Dietz
  • Jon Aars
  • Magnus Andersen
Original Paper


Few studies have investigated the impacts of climate change on polar bears (Ursus maritimus) in East Greenland (EG), where some of the largest rates of sea ice loss have occurred. We used remotely sensed sea ice data to quantify changes in timing of sea ice freeze-up and breakup in EG polar bear habitat between 1979 and 2012. We then quantified movement rates, area use, habitat selection, and distribution and phenology of maternity denning using data from adult female polar bears tracked with satellite transmitters between 2007 and 2010 (n = 7). We compared results to historical data collected from adult females in the 1990s (n = 4). Adult females in the 2000s used areas with significantly lower sea ice concentrations (10–15 % lower) than bears in the 1990s during winter, a pattern influenced by delayed freeze-up in October–December. Adult females in the 2000s were located significantly closer (100–150 km) to open water in all seasons and spent approximately 2 months longer in areas with <60 % sea ice concentration than bears in the 1990s. Multivariate resource selection models contrasting preference between decades showed that there was a statistically significant and stronger winter preference in the 2000s for adult females to select for higher sea ice concentrations. Timing of maternity denning did not significantly differ between decades. Results indicate that multi-decadal loss of sea ice has resulted in shifts in polar bear habitat use in EG.


Ursus maritimus Arctic Greenland Polar bear Resource selection Sea ice 



Funding was provided by the Bureau of Mineral and Petroleum (Nuuk, Greenland), the Danish Ministry of the Environment (Copenhagen, Denmark), and the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources (Nuuk). All permits for the study were provided by the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources and the Government of Greenland. We thank the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI; Tromsø, Norway) and in particular Drs. Kit M. Kovacs and Christian Lydersen (NPI) and the Institute of Marine Research (Tromsø) and Dr. Tore Haug for valuable help during field work in 2007 and 2008. The field work in 1993 and 1994 was made possible by logistical support from Alfred Wegener Marine Research Institute (AWI, Bremerhaven and Potsdam). Thanks are due to the crew of RV “Polarstern” (AWI), MV “Nordsyssel” (IMR), and RV “Lance” (NPI). Support for K. L. and H. S. was provided by NASA (NNX11AO63G and NNX13AN28G) and the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources. Three anonymous reviewers improved the paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kristin L. Laidre
    • 1
    • 2
  • Erik W. Born
    • 2
  • Patrick Heagerty
    • 3
  • Øystein Wiig
    • 4
  • Harry Stern
    • 1
  • Rune Dietz
    • 5
  • Jon Aars
    • 6
  • Magnus Andersen
    • 6
  1. 1.Polar Science Center, Applied Physics LaboratoryUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  2. 2.Greenland Institute of Natural ResourcesNuukGreenland
  3. 3.Department of BiostatisticsUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  4. 4.National Centre for Biosystematics, Natural History MuseumUniversity of OsloOsloNorway
  5. 5.Department of Bioscience, Arctic Research CentreAarhus UniversityRoskildeDenmark
  6. 6.Norwegian Polar InstituteTromsøNorway

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