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Arctic conditions may become critical for polar bears by end of 21st century

Shifts in ice cover may impact arctic polar bear populations


Shifts in the timing and duration of ice cover, especially the possible lengthening of ice-free periods, may impact polar bears under projected warming before the end of the 21st century, according to a study published November 26, 2014 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Stephen Hamilton from University of Alberta and colleagues.

Sea ice across the Arctic is declining and altering physical characteristics of marine ecosystems, and polar bears are vulnerable to these changes in sea ice conditions. The authors of this study used sea ice projections for the Canadian Arctic Archipelago from 2006-2100 and metrics developed from polar bear energetics modeling to gain insight into the conservation challenges for polar bears facing habitat loss.

Shifts away from multiyear ice to annual ice cover throughout the region, as well as lengthening ice-free periods, may become critical for polar bears before the end of the 21st century with projected warming. Each polar bear population in the Archipelago may undergo 2-5 months of ice-free conditions, where no such conditions exist presently. Under business-as-usual climate projections, polar bears may face starvation and reproductive failure across the entire Archipelago by the year 2100. "We predict that nearly one-tenth of the world's polar bear habitat, as much as one-quarter of their global population, may undergo significant habitat loss under business-as-usual climate projections," said Stephen Hamilton.


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Citation: Hamilton SG, Castro de la Guardia L, Derocher AE, Sahanatien V, Tremblay B, et al. (2014) Projected Polar Bear Sea Ice Habitat in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. PLoS ONE 9(11): e113746. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0113746

Funding: Funding was provided by WWF (Canada), ArcticNet, the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Canadian Wildlife Federation, Environment Canada, Hauser Bears, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Office of Naval Research grant (N000141110977), Pittsburgh Zoo, Polar Continental Shelf Project, Polar Bears International, and Quark Expeditions. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. Co-author David Huard is employed by David Huard Solutions. David Huard Solutions provided support in the form of salary for author David Huard, but did not have any additional role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The specific roles of these authors are articulated in the 'author contributions' section.

Competing Interests: The authors have the following interests: Quark Expeditions is a commercial tour company that provided the authors with a donation research with no conditions. Co-author David Huard is employed by David Huard Solutions. There are no patents, products in development or marketed to declare. This does not alter the authors' adherence to all the PLOS ONE policies on sharing data and materials.

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