Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Around the Arctic January 29, 2014 - 4:06 pm

Polar bears adapt to climate change by eating caribou, goose eggs: researchers

“We’re finding that they might be more resilient than is commonly thought"

DAVID MURPHY
A polar bear walks on sea ice, in an undated file photo. A new study suggests polar bears are now using their ancient brown bear genes to cope with climate change — meaning they're eating less seal meat and more geese, goose eggs, caribou, and plants. (FILE PHOTO)
A polar bear walks on sea ice, in an undated file photo. A new study suggests polar bears are now using their ancient brown bear genes to cope with climate change — meaning they're eating less seal meat and more geese, goose eggs, caribou, and plants. (FILE PHOTO)

Polar bears are using their inner brown bear genes to adapt to climate change by changing their diets.

That’s what two researchers from the American Museum of Natural History found after studying Hudson Bay polar bear diets. 

When there is no sea ice available for seal hunting, polar bears are now more “flexible” in what they eat so they can maintain their energy levels.

“This behavior likely derives from a shared genetic heritage with brown bears, from which polar bears separated about 600,000 years ago,” read a Jan. 21 American Museum of Natural History press release. 

Researchers from the museum, Robert Rockwell and Linda Gormezano, found polar bears eat more caribou, snow geese and snow geese eggs because of lessening sea ice.

That means polar bears might be able to cope with climate change, if they are switching from seal meat to other foods. 

“Our results suggest that some polar bears may possess this flexibility and thus may be able to cope with rapidly changing access to their historic food supply,” Gormezano said.

Rockwell said the polar bears are “very susceptible” to global climate change.

“But we’re finding that they might be more resilient than is commonly thought,” Rockwell said in the press release.

Three papers were published on their findings.

One paper documented polar bears hunting snow geese of all ages. Another paper examined excrement to find out what’s changed in their diet from 40 years ago.

And the third paper said polar bears are mixing a little more greens into their diet.

“The predominance of local vegetation in collected scat suggests little movement among habitat types between feeding sessions, indicating that the polar bears are keeping energy expenditure down,” said the press release.

The press release said climate change is one reason why polar bears are listed as “vulnerable” under the United States Endangered Species Act.

“Climate warming is reducing the availability of their ice habitat, especially in the spring when polar bears gain most of their annual fat reserves by consuming seal pups before coming ashore for the summer,” the press release said. 

To learn more about the study, click here.

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