Polar bears are inefficient predators of seabird eggs
Royal Society Open Science
alternative food resources, common eiders, foraging performance, optimal foraging theory, polar bears, seabird eggs
Climate-mediated sea-ice loss is disrupting the foraging ecology of polar bears (Ursus maritimus) across much of their range. As a result, there have been increased reports of polar bears foraging on seabird eggs across parts of their range. Given that polar bears have evolved to hunt seals on ice, they may not be efficient predators of seabird eggs. We investigated polar bears' foraging performance on common eider (Somateria mollissima) eggs on Mitivik Island, Nunavut, Canada to test whether bear decision-making heuristics are consistent with expectations of optimal foraging theory. Using aerial-drones, we recorded multiple foraging bouts over 11 days, and found that as clutches were depleted to completion, bears did not exhibit foraging behaviours matched to resource density. As the season progressed, bears visited fewer nests overall, but marginally increased their visitation to nests that were already empty. Bears did not display different movement modes related to nest density, but became less selective in their choice of clutches to consume. Lastly, bears that capitalized on visual cues of flushing eider hens significantly increased the number of clutches they consumed; however, they did not use this strategy consistently or universally. The foraging behaviours exhibited by polar bears in this study suggest they are inefficient predators of seabird eggs, particularly in the context of matching behaviours to resource density.
Jagielski, Patrick M.; Dey, Cody J.; Gilchrist, H. Grant; Richardson, Evan S.; Love, Oliver P.; and Semeniuk, Christina A.D.. (2021). Polar bears are inefficient predators of seabird eggs. Royal Society Open Science, 8 (4).