Barents Sea polar bears (Ursus maritimus): population biology and anthropogenic threats
This paper examines how anthropogenic threats, such as disturbance, pollution and climate change, are linked to polar bear (Ursus maritimus) population biology in the Svalbard and Barents Sea area, with the aim to increase our understanding of how human activity may impact the population. Overharvesting drastically reduced the population of polar bears in the Barents Sea region from about 1870 to 1970. After harvesting was stopped—in 1956 in Russia and 1973 in Norway—the population grew to an estimated 2650 individuals (95% confidence interval 1900–3600) in 2004, and maternity denning in the Svalbard Archipelago became more widely distributed. During recent decades, the population has faced challenges from a variety of new anthropogenic impacts: a range of pollutants, an increasing level of human presence and activity as well as changes in ice conditions. Contaminants bioaccumulate up through the marine food web, culminating in this top predator that consumes ringed, bearded and harp seals. Females with small cubs use land-fast sea ice for hunting and are therefore vulnerable to disturbance by snowmobile drivers. Sea-ice diminution, associated with climate change, reduces polar bears’ access to denning areas and could negatively affect the survival of cubs. There are clear linkages between population biology and current anthropogenic threats, and we suggest that future research and management should focus on and take into consideration the combined effects of several stressors on polar bears.
Keywords: Top predator; environmental threats; climate warming; contamination; disturbance; habitat change.
(Published: 12 July 2016)
Citation: Polar Research 2016, 35, 26029,http://dx.doi.org/10.3402/polar.v35.26029
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Authors retain copyright of their work, with first publication rights granted to the Norwegian Polar Institute.