Contrasting Temporal Patterns of Mercury, Niche Dynamics, and Body Fat Indices of Polar Bears and Ringed Seals in a Melting Icescape.Environ Sci Technol. 2020 03 03; 54(5):2780-2789.ES
Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) and ringed seals (Pusa hispida) have a strong predator-prey relationship and are facing climate-associated Arctic habitat loss and harmful dietary exposure to total mercury (THg) and other pollutants. However, little is known about whether both species inhabiting the same area exhibit similar temporal patterns in Hg concentration, niche dynamics, and body fat indices. We used THg, δ13C, and δ15N values of western Hudson Bay polar bear hair (2004-2016) and ringed seal muscle samples (2003-2015) to investigate temporal trends of these variables and multidimensional niche metrics, as well as body fat indices for both species. We found a decline in THg concentration (by 3.8% per year) and δ13C (by 1.5‰) in ringed seals suggesting a change in feeding habits and carbon source use over time, whereas no significant changes occurred in polar bears. In contrast, the polar bear 3-dimensional niche size decreased by nearly half with no change in ringed seal niche size. The δ13C spacing between both species increased by approximately 1.5× suggesting different responses to annual changes in sympagic-pelagic carbon source production. Ringed seal body fat index was higher in years of earlier sea ice breakup with no change occurring in polar bears. These findings indicate that both species are responding differently to a changing environment suggesting a possible weakening of their predator-prey relationship in western Hudson Bay.