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Incremental evolution of modeling a prognosis for polar bears in a rapidly changing Arctic

October 31, 2023

Updating predictions of the response of high-profile, at-risk species to climate change and anthropogenic stressors is vital for informing effective conservation action. Here, we review two prior generations of Bayesian network probability models predicting changes in global polar bear (Ursus maritimus) population status, and provide a contemporary update based on recent research findings and sea-ice projections by newer climate models. We compare predictions of polar bear population response from all 3 models among four circumpolar Arctic ecoregions, using sea ice projections based on three IPCC greenhouse gas emissions scenarios (SSP2.6, 4.5, 8.5). Consistent with the previous two model generations, polar bears will continue to experience increasing probability of declining or greatly declining populations throughout the 21st century, varying by emission scenario. Populations within the Polar Basin Divergent Ice Ecoregion have the highest predicted probability of declines, but predictions were slightly less dire relative to the previous model generation. Most of the influence, denoted by model sensitivity analysis, is from expected degradation and loss of sea ice and reduced access to marine prey. The lack of terrestrial prey adequate to substitute for loss of access to marine prey, as well as human-caused bear morality associated with hunting and defense of life and property encountered when polar bears are increasingly forced ashore also contributed to predicted declines. Although some tidewater glacial fjords and other localized onshore resources may provide local refugia, their benefit is transient. Our findings continue to inform priorities for inventory, monitoring, and research needs, and suggest that similar updates to models of other at-risk species can capitalize on the comparison framework we present here.

Publication Year 2023
Title Incremental evolution of modeling a prognosis for polar bears in a rapidly changing Arctic
DOI 10.1016/j.ecolind.2023.111130
Authors Bruce G. Marcot, Todd C. Atwood, David C. Douglas, Jeffrey F. Bromaghin, Anthony M. Pagano, Steven C. Amstrup
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecological Indicators
Index ID 70250044
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center Ecosystems