Royal Society Open Science
Arctic colonial nesting seabird, common eider, dynamic risk assessment, heart rate response, polar bear, predation threat
Several predator-prey systems are in flux as an indirect result of climate change. In the Arctic, earlier sea-ice loss is driving polar bears (Ursus maritimus) onto land when many colonial nesting seabirds are breeding. The result is a higher threat of nest predation for birds with potential limited ability to respond. We quantified heart rate change in a large common eider (Somateria mollissima) breeding colony in the Canadian Arctic to explore their adaptive capacity to keep pace with the increasing risk of egg predation by polar bears. Eiders displayed on average higher heart rates from baseline when polar bears were within their field of view. Moreover, eiders were insensitive to variation in the distance bears were to their nests, but exhibited mild bradycardia (lowered heart rate) the longer the eider was exposed to the bear given the hen's visibility. Results indicate that a limited ability to assess the risks posed by polar bears may result in long-term fitness consequences for eiders from the increasing frequency in interactions with this predator.
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Geldart, Erica A.; Love, Oliver P.; Barnas, Andrew F.; Harris, Christopher M.; Gilchrist, H. Grant; and Semeniuk, Christina A.D.. (2023). A colonial-nesting seabird shows limited heart rate responses to natural variation in threats of polar bears. Royal Society Open Science, 10 (10).