Polar bears

Polar bears

As the Arctic warms, a new cache of resources—snow goose eggs—may help sustain the polar bear population for the foreseeable future. In a new study published in an early online edition of Oikos, researchers affiliated with the Museum show that even large numbers of hungry bears repeatedly raiding nests over many years would have a difficult time eliminating all of the geese because of a mismatch in the timing of bear arrival on shore and goose egg incubation. “There have been statements in popular literature indicating that polar bears can extirpate snow geese quickly once they start to eat eggs,” says Robert Rockwell, a research associate in the Division of Vertebrate Zoology at the Museum and a professor at the City University of New York. “However, there will always be the occasional mismatch in the overlap between the onshore arrival of bears and the incubation period of the geese. Even if the bears eat every egg during each year of complete ‘match,’ our model shows that periodic years of mismatch will provide windows of successful goose reproduction that will partially offset predation effects.”

In the last few years, work along the Cape Churchill Peninsula of western Hudson Bay by Rockwell and colleagues has suggested that polar bears are not as hamstrung by their environment as many biologists believe. One new nutritional option for polar bears is the bounty of goose eggs which had previously hatched into goslings that were gone by the time bears came ashore. In recent years, ‘early’ bears have left breaking sea ice to come ashore and consume eggs. In fact, the earlier the bears come ashore, the better: eggs are higher in nutrients when the embryo is younger.
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