Summer habitat selection by ringed seals (Pusa hispida) in the drifting sea ice of the northern Barents Sea

  • Karen Lone Norwegian Polar Institute, Fram Centre, Tromsø, Norway
  • Charmain D. Hamilton Norwegian Polar Institute, Fram Centre, Tromsø, Norway
  • Jon Aars Norwegian Polar Institute, Fram Centre, Tromsø, Norway
  • Christian Lydersen Norwegian Polar Institute, Fram Centre, Tromsø, Norway
  • Kit M. Kovacs Norwegian Polar Institute, Fram Centre, Tromsø, Norway
Keywords: Arctic, Svalbard, climate change, Marginal Ice Zone, RSF, sea ice-associated marine mammals


Ringed seals are a central component of the Arctic ecosystem; they have a circumpolar distribution and are both important predators of lower trophic animals (invertebrates and fishes) and prey for polar bears and coastal human populations. They depend on sea ice for reproduction, moulting and resting, and they consume significant amounts of ice-associated prey. The population of ringed seals in Svalbard, Norway, uses both coastal and offshore habitats, the latter being important during seasonal migrations undertaken by some animals, mostly juveniles. This study examined habitat preferences of 18 satellite-tracked ringed seals (mostly young animals, but also a few adults) during late summer/autumn migrations to the drift ice in the northern Barents Sea. Resource selection functions showed that ringed seals preferred being close to the 50% sea-ice concentration threshold; a 120 km increase in the distance to the 50% sea-ice concentration threshold halved the probability of selection of a given area. In addition, higher sea-ice concentrations (80–100%) were between 1.4 and 2.2 times as likely to be selected as lower sea-ice concentrations or open water. Ringed seals use the marginal ice zone of the Barents Sea during summer/autumn. This offshore habitat has shifted northward during recent decades, which is likely causing negative effects on ringed seals by increasing the energetic cost of offshore migrations.


Download data is not yet available.


Aars J., Marques T.A., Lone K., Andersen M., Wiig Ø., Bardalen Fløystad I.M., Hagen S.B. & Buckland S.T. 2017. The number and distribution of polar bears in the western Barents Sea. Polar Research 36, article no. 1457880,

Andersen M., Derocher A.E., Wiig O. & Aars J. 2012. Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) maternity den distribution in Svalbard, Norway. Polar Biology 35, 499–508,

Arrigo K.R. & van Dijken G.L. 2015. Continued increases in Arctic Ocean primary production. Progress in Oceanography 136(S1), 60–70,

Barber D.G., Hop H., Mundy C.J., Else B., Dmitrenko I.A., Tremblay J.-E., Ehn J.K., Assmy P., Daase M. & Candlish L.M. 2015. Selected physical, biological and biogeochemical implications of a rapidly changing Arctic marginal ice zone. Progress in Oceanography 139(S1), 122–150,

Boyce M.S. & McDonald L.L. 1999. Relating populations to habitats using resource selection functions. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 14, 268–272,

CLS (Collecte Localisation Satellites) 2016. Argos user’s manual: worldwide tracking and environmental monitoring by satellite. Ramonville Saint-Agne, France: Collecte Localisation Satellites.

David C., Lange B., Krumpen T., Schaafsma F., van Franeker J.A. & Flores H. 2016. Under-ice distribution of polar cod Boreogadus saida in the central Arctic Ocean and their association with sea-ice habitat properties. Polar Biology 39(S1), 981–994,

Descamps S., Aars J., Fuglei E., Kovacs K.M., Lydersen C., Pavlova O., Pedersen Å.Ø., Ravolainen V. & Strøm H. 2017. Climate change impacts on wildlife in a High Arctic archipelago–Svalbard, Norway. Global Change Biology 23, 490–502,

Eriksen E., Ingvaldsen R., Nedreaas K. & Prozorkevich D. 2015. The effect of recent warming on polar cod and beaked redfish juveniles in the Barents Sea. Regional Studies in Marine Science 2, 105–112,

Finley K., Miller G., Davis R. & Koski W. 1983. A distinctive large breeding population of ringed seals (Phoca hispida) inhabiting the Baffin Bay pack ice. Arctic 36, 162–173.

Freitas C., Kovacs K.M., Ims R.A., Fedak M.A. & Lydersen C. 2008. Ringed seal post-moulting movement tactics and habitat selection. Oecologia 155, 193–204,

Freitas C., Kovacs K.M., Ims R.A. & Lydersen C. 2008. Predicting habitat use by ringed seals (Phoca hispida) in a warming Arctic. Ecological Modelling 217, 19–32,

Freitas C., Lydersen C., Fedak M.A. & Kovacs K.M. 2008. A simple new algorithm to filter marine mammal Argos locations. Marine Mammal Science 24, 315–325,

Gjertz I. & Lydersen C. 1986. Polar bear predation on ringed seals in the fast-ice of Hornsund, Svalbard. Polar Research 4, 65–68,

Hamilton C.D., Kovacs K.M., Ims R.A., Aars J., Strøm H. & Lydersen C. 2017. Spatial overlap among an Arctic predator, prey and scavenger in the marginal ice zone. Marine Ecology Progress Series 573, 45–59,

Hamilton C.D., Lydersen C., Ims R.A. & Kovacs K.M. 2015. Predictions replaced by facts: a keystone species’ behavioural responses to declining Arctic sea-ice. Biology Letters 11, article no. 20150803,

Hamilton C.D., Lydersen C., Ims R.A. & Kovacs K.M. 2016. Coastal habitat use by ringed seals Pusa hispida following a regional sea-ice collapse: importance of glacial refugia in a changing Arctic. Marine Ecology Progress Series 545, 261–277,

IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) 2014. Climate change 2014: synthesis report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Core Writing Team, R.K. Pachauri & L.A. Meyer (eds.). Geneva: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Jakobsson M., Mayer L., Coakley B., Dowdeswell J.A., Forbes S., Fridman B., Hodnesdal H., Noormets R., Pedersen R., Rebesco M., Schenke H.W., Zarayskaya Y., Accettella D., Armstrong A., Anderson R.M., Bienhoff P., Camerlenghi A., Church I., Edwards M., Gardner J.V., Hall J.K., Hell B., Hestvik O., Kristoffersen Y., Marcussen C., Mohammad R., Mosher D., Nghiem S.V., Pedrosa M.T., Travaglini P.G. & Weatherall P. 2012. The International Bathymetric Chart of the Arctic Ocean (IBCAO) version 3.0. Geophysical Research Letters 39, L12609,

Johnson D.S., London J.M., Lea M.-A. & Durban J.W. 2008. Continuous-time correlated random walk model for animal telemetry data. Ecology 89, 1208–1215,

Kaleschke L., Lupkes C., Vihma T., Haarpaintner J., Bochert A., Hartmann J. & Heygster G. 2001. SSM/I sea ice remote sensing for mesoscale ocean–atmosphere interaction analysis. Canadian Journal of Remote Sensing 27, 526–537,

Kelly B.P., Badajos O.H., Kunnasranta M., Moran J.R., Martinez-Bakker M., Wartzok D. & Boveng P. 2010. Seasonal home ranges and fidelity to breeding sites among ringed seals. Polar Biology 33, 1095–1109,

Kohlbach D., Schaafsma F.L., Graeve M., Lebreton B., Lange B.A., David C., Vortkamp M. & Flores H. 2017. Strong linkage of polar cod (Boreogadus saida) to sea ice algae-produced carbon: evidence from stomach content, fatty acid and stable isotope analyses. Progress in Oceanography 152, 62–74,

Krafft B.A., Kovacs K.M., Frie A.K., Haug T. & Lydersen C. 2006. Growth and population parameters of ringed seals (Pusa hispida) from Svalbard, Norway, 2002–2004. ICES Journal of Marine Science 63, 1136–1144,

Labansen A.L., Lydersen C., Haug T. & Kovacs K.M. 2007. Spring diet of ringed seals (Phoca hispida) from northwestern Spitsbergen, Norway. ICES Journal of Marine Science 64, 1246–1256,

Laidre K.L., Stern H., Kovacs K.M., Lowry L., Moore S.E., Regehr E.V., Ferguson S.H., Wiig Ø., Boveng P. & Angliss R.P. 2015. Arctic marine mammal population status, sea ice habitat loss, and conservation recommendations for the 21st century. Conservation Biology 29, 724–737,

Lele S.R., Merrill E.H., Keim J. & Boyce M.S. 2013. Selection, use, choice and occupancy: clarifying concepts in resource selection studies. Journal of Animal Ecology 82, 1183–1191,

Lydersen C., Assmy P., Falk-Petersen S., Kohler J., Kovacs K.M., Reigstad M., Steen H., Strøm H., Sundfjord A. & Varpe Ø. 2014. The importance of tidewater glaciers for marine mammals and seabirds in Svalbard, Norway. Journal of Marine Systems 129, 452–471,

Lydersen C. & Gjertz I. 1986. Studies of the ringed seal (Phoca hispida Schreber 1775) in its breeding habitat in Kongsfjorden, Svalbard. Polar Research 4, 57–63,

Lydersen C. & Gjertz I. 1987. Population parameters of ringed seals (Phoca hispida Schreber, 1775) in the Svalbard area. Canadian Journal of Zoology 65, 1021–1027,

Lydersen C., Vaquie-Garcia J., Lydersen E., Christensen G.N. & Kovacs K.M. 2017. Novel terrestrial haul-out behaviour by ringed seals (Pusa hispida) in Svalbard, in association with harbour seals (Phocavitulina). Polar Research 35, article no. 1374124,

Maslanik J., Stroeve J., Fowler C. & Emery W. 2011. Distribution and trends in Arctic sea ice age through spring 2011. Geophysical Research Letters 38, article no. L13502,

Muckenhuber S., Nilsen F., Korosov A. & Sandven S. 2016. Sea ice cover in Isfjorden and Hornsund, Svalbard (2000–2014) from remote sensing data. The Cryosphere 10, 149–158,

R Core Team 2015. R: a language and environment for statistical computing. Vienna: R Foundation for Statistical Computing.

Reeves R.R. 1998. Distribution, abundance and biology of ringed seals (Phoca hispida): an overview. NAMMCO Scientific Publications 1, 9–45.

Sakshaug E. & Walsh J. 2000. Marine biology: biomass, productivity distributions and their variability in the Barents and Bering Seas. In M. Nuttall & V. Callaghan (eds.): The Arctic: environment, people, policy. Pp. 163–196. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers.

Scheffers B.R., De Meester L., Bridge T.C., Hoffmann A.A., Pandolfi J.M., Corlett R.T., Butchart S.H., Pearce-Kelly P., Kovacs K.M. & Dudgeon D. 2016. The broad footprint of climate change from genes to biomes to people. Science 354, aaf7671,

Smith T.G. & Stirling I. 1975. The breeding habitat of the ringed seal (Phoca hispida). The birth lair and associated structures. Canadian Journal of Zoology 53, 1297–1305.

Spreen G., Kaleschke L. & Heygster G. 2008. Sea ice remote sensing using AMSR-E 89-GHz channels. Journal of Geophysical Research—Oceans 113, C02S03,

Stern H.L. & Laidre K.L. 2016. Sea-ice indicators of polar bear habitat. The Cryosphere 10, 2027–2041,

Stirling I. 1997. The importance of polynyas, ice edges, and leads to marine mammals and birds. Journal of Marine Systems 10, 9–21,

Stroeve J.C., Kattsov V., Barrett A., Serreze M., Pavlova T., Holland M. & Meier W.N. 2012. Trends in Arctic sea ice extent from CMIP5, CMIP3 and observations. Geophysical Research Letters 39, L16502,

Therneau T. 2015. A package for survival analysis in S. R package version 2.38.

Wiig Ø., Derocher A.E. & Belikov S.E. 1999. Ringed seal (Phoca hispida) breeding in the drifting pack ice of the Barents Sea. Marine Mammal Science 15, 595–598,

Yurkowski D.J., Ferguson S.H., Semeniuk C.A.D., Brown T.M., Muir D.C.G. & Fisk A.T. 2016. Spatial and temporal variation of an ice-adapted predator’s feeding ecology in a changing Arctic marine ecosystem. Oecologia 180, 631–644,
How to Cite
Lone, K., Hamilton, C., Aars, J., Lydersen, C., & Kovacs, K. (2019). Summer habitat selection by ringed seals (<em>Pusa hispida</em&gt;) in the drifting sea ice of the northern Barents Sea. Polar Research, 38.
Research Articles