Stable ringed seal (Pusa hispida) demography despite significant habitat change in Svalbard, Norway

  • Magnus Andersen Norwegian Polar Institute, Fram Centre, Tromsø, Norway
  • Kit M. Kovacs Norwegian Polar Institute, Fram Centre, Tromsø, Norway
  • Christian Lydersen Norwegian Polar Institute, Fram Centre, Tromsø, Norway
Keywords: Climate change, sea ice, Arctic ecosystem, recruitment, body growth, body condition

Abstract

Ringed seals, which are small phocid seals, range across the circumpolar Arctic, and have evolved in close association with sea ice and depend on it for all aspects of their life history. This research study compares age structure, reproductive parameters, body size and condition during three time periods—1981–82 (n = 277), 2002–04 (n = 272) and 2012–18 (n = 212)—to study potential changes in demography in ringed seals in western Svalbard, Norway, an area that has undergone dramatic changes in sea-ice conditions during recent decades. Age distributions for the three time periods were similar, with the exception that the most recent period had a higher proportion of young animals. Age at sexual maturity for both sexes was similar for the two most recent periods, both being lower than in the 1980s. Ovulation rates did not vary significantly among the three periods (range 0.86–0.94). Pregnancy rates were only available for the most recent study period (0.71); this value falls within the range reported from other Arctic regions. Body length showed no clear temporal patterns; males were slightly longer in the most recent period, while females were slightly longer in the first period. Data from May in all periods suggest that body condition has not varied significantly through time. In conclusion, although the ringed seal breeding habitat in Svalbard has declined significantly in recent decades, demographic parameters appear to be largely unaffected. Life-history plasticity in combination with a small-scale regional variation in environmental conditions might explain the lack of changes in demography over time.

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Published
2021-04-30
How to Cite
Andersen, M., Kovacs, K. M., & Lydersen, C. (2021). Stable ringed seal (<em>Pusa hispida</em&gt;) demography despite significant habitat change in Svalbard, Norway. Polar Research, 40. https://doi.org/10.33265/polar.v40.5391
Section
Research Articles