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Polar bear's range dynamics and survival in the Holocene

September 8, 2023

Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) is the apex predator of the Arctic, largely dependent on sea-ice. The expected disappearance of the ice cover of the Arctic seas by the mid 21st century is predicted to cause a dramatic decrease in the global range and population size of the species. To place this scenario against the backdrop of past distribution changes and their causes, we use a fossil dataset to investigate the polar bear's past distribution dynamics during the Late Glacial and the Holocene. Fossil results indicate that during the last deglaciation, polar bears were present at the southwestern margin of the Scandinavian Ice Sheet, surviving until the earliest Holocene. There are no Arctic polar bear findings from 8000–6000 years ago (8–6 ka), the Holocene's warmest period. However, fossils that date from 8-9 ka and 5–6 ka suggest that the species likely survived this period in cold refugia located near the East Siberian Sea, northern Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago. Polar bear range expansion is documented by an increase in fossils during the last 4000 years in tandem with cooling climate and expanding Arctic sea ice. The results document changes in polar bear's distribution in response to Late Glacial and Holocene Arctic temperature and sea ice trends.

Publication Year 2023
Title Polar bear's range dynamics and survival in the Holocene
DOI 10.1016/j.quascirev.2023.108277
Authors Heikki Seppä, Marit-Solveig Seidenkrantz, Beth Elaine Caissie, Marc Macias Fauria
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Quaternary Science Reviews
Index ID 70249288
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geology, Minerals, Energy, and Geophysics Science Center