Has early ice clearance increased predation on breeding birds by polar bears?
Abstract Past studies suggest that polar bears (Ursus maritimus) consume terrestrial food only opportunistically and derive little nutritional benefit from it. Here, we present observations of at least 6 bears consuming large numbers of snow goose (Chen caerulescens) eggs at two locations in the eastern low Arctic in 2004 and 2006. We also report two records of a polar bear eating the eggs and chicks of cliff-nesting thick-billed murres (Uria lomvia) in 2000 and 2003. Climatic warming has resulted in progressively earlier ice break-up in Hudson Bay, forcing bears ashore much earlier than historical records indicate. Advancement in the nesting dates of birds has been more modest, and this mismatch in timing could lead to an increasing overlap between the nesting period of birds and the period during which bears are on land. At these sites in these years, bears were on land prior to the hatch of nests, and the predation that ensued was catastrophic for the birds at a local scale. Although anecdotal, our observations highlight the complexity of trophic interactions that may occur in a changing Arctic.