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High-energy, high-fat lifestyle challenges an Arctic apex predator, the polar bear

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Abstract

Regional declines in polar bear (Ursus maritimus) populations have been attributed to changing sea ice conditions, but with limited information on the causative mechanisms. By simultaneously measuring field metabolic rates, daily activity patterns, body condition, and foraging success of polar bears moving on the spring sea ice, we found that high metabolic rates (1.6 times greater than previously assumed) coupled with low intake of fat-rich marine mammal prey resulted in an energy deficit for more than half of the bears examined. Activity and movement on the sea ice strongly influenced metabolic demands. Consequently, increases in mobility resulting from ongoing and forecasted declines in and fragmentation of sea ice are likely to increase energy demands and may be an important factor explaining observed declines in body condition and survival.

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Pagano, A. M., Durner, G. M., Rode, K. D., Atwood, T. C., Atkinson, S. N., Peacock, E., … Williams, T. M. (2018). High-energy, high-fat lifestyle challenges an Arctic apex predator, the polar bear. Science, 359(6375), 568–572. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aan8677

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