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The early bear gets the goose: climate change, polar bears and lesser snow geese in western Hudson Bay

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Abstract

As climate change advances the date of spring breakup in Hudson Bay, polar bears are coming ashore earlier. Since they would have lost some of their opportunities to hunt ringed seals from a sea ice platform, they may be deficient in energy. Subadult polar bears appear to come ashore before more mature individuals and the earliest subadults are beginning to overlap the nesting period of the large colony of snow geese also occupying the Cape Churchill Peninsula. The eggs these bears are known to eat could make up some of their energy shortfall. The earlier these eggs are consumed during the snow goose nesting period, the greater would be the energy that is available. Recent studies have shown that the annual survival rate for subadult bears declined in contrast to that of prime aged individuals. If this reduction in survival is related to an increasing energy deficit, as suggested by some, the consumption of goose eggs may reverse the trend and help stabilize the population, at least for some period of time. The total number of polar bears that could benefit from this resource will depend on the increasing temporal overlap with the nesting period and on the foraging behaviors of individuals eating the eggs. It is likely that other food sources will also have to play a role if the polar bears are to persist.

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Acknowledgments

This work benefited greatly from discussions with George Barrowclough, Dave Koons, Scott McWilliams and the late Malcolm Ramsay. Bob Jefferies, Dave Koons, Maarten Loonen and Scott McWilliams provided suggestions that improved the manuscript. This work was supported through funds and resources provided by the Hudson Bay Project and the American Museum of Natural History. The research reported complies with all relevant Canadian laws.

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Correspondence to R. F. Rockwell.

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Rockwell, R.F., Gormezano, L.J. The early bear gets the goose: climate change, polar bears and lesser snow geese in western Hudson Bay. Polar Biol 32, 539–547 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-008-0548-3

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-008-0548-3

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