A paper published today finds that predictions of polar bear population crashes due to summer sea ice loss are based on a scientifically unfounded assumption.
[The graphic above was created by me from the title page and two figures from the paper]
Specifically, this paper of mine addresses the basic premise upon which predicted population declines linked to modeled habitat loss made by polar bear specialists back in 2006 and 2008 (by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, IUCN, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, USFWS), and concludes that when assessed as a testable hypothesis against data collected since then, it must be rejected.
The forum for this paper is PeerJ Preprints, which I found while looking for recent research papers about ringed seals. I discovered that Canadian ringed seal biologist Steven Ferguson recently used this service, which is free, open access, accepts review commentary, and will show up on Google and Google Scholar searches.
Ferguson et al. 2016. Demographic, ecological and physiological responses of ringed seals to an abrupt decline in sea ice availability. DOI:10.7287/peerj.preprints.2309v1 Pdf here. https://peerj.com/preprints/2309/
I decided that if this publication forum was good enough for Ferguson and his Arctic research community, it was good enough for me.
Crockford, S.J. 2017. Testing the hypothesis that routine sea ice coverage of 3-5 mkm2 results in a greater than 30% decline in population size of polar bears (Ursus maritimus). PeerJ Preprints 19 January 2017. Doi: 10.7287/peerj.preprints.2737v1 Open access. https://peerj.com/preprints/2737/ (pdf here).
Posted in Conservation Status, Population, Sea ice habitat
Tagged hypothesis, IUCN, observations, peer-review, polar bear, predictions, publication, sea ice, threatened, US Fish and Wildlife Service, USGS, vulnerable
With a few big guns on one side and some fringe folk on the other, a dichotomy of opinion has developed amongst polar bear researchers regarding whether or not consumption of land-based foods is making a difference to polar bear survival (or is likely to in the future).
It’s been going on for a while now. Last year, two US Geological Survey members of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) apparently got fed up with the scatter-shot of papers promoting terrestrial foods as a possible salvation for polar bears (e.g. Iles et al. 2013; Iverson et al. 2014; Rockwell and Gormezano 2013a, 2013b). In April, they published a canon volley of a paper meant to blow all that ‘polar-bears-might-survive’ talk out of the water once and for all (Rode et al. 2015).
Note that although the PBSG didn’t bother to update their website with the IUCN Red List assessment when it came out last November, they had a link up to the USGS terrestrial feeding paper within 16 days (with an editorial summary in the “NEWS” section as well as a listing of the paper in the “RECOMMENDED READING” section). As I suggest below, this difference in treatment may not be a coincidence.
However, another group of non-PBSG researchers haven’t given up just yet, as shown by the title chosen for the most recent news report (Alaska Dispatch News, 16 June 2016) on the just-finished International Bear Conference:
Want to know how a changing climate is affecting polar bears? Look at what they’re eating.
Apparently, Jeff Welker, a University of Alaska Anchorage researcher who is co-author on two recent papers on the subject of polar bear consumption of terrestrial foods (Tartu et al. 2016 and Rogers et al. 2015), gave a presentation at the conference that raised this topic yet again. His talk came on the heels of an earlier presentation by Todd Atwood, who suggested Southern Beaufort polar bears might benefit from staying onshore to eat left-over whale scraps instead of staying on the sea ice during the summer (even though he had no data to support that opinion – as I discussed in this post).
Here’s the question: is this dispute really about what polar bears eat or don’t eat when they’re on land – or is it symptomatic of the underlying politics of polar bears? [CBC documentary video by that name here]
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Life History
Tagged adaptation, Amstrup, Atwood, criticism, diet, extinction, grizzly, IUCN, PBSG, polar bear, politics, Red list, resilience, Rode, sub-standard science, terrestrial foods, threatened, Welker
It is now past the 15 June 2016 mark and the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) has still not acknowledged the 2015 IUCN Red List update on the status of polar bears. See the screencap below, taken this morning.
This notice has been up since 14 January 2016 and no reference or link to the November 2015 IUCN Red List update has been posted, even though PBSG members authored the report (pdf here)!
What they may not realize is that their silence just drives people who search the internet looking for up-to-date population and conservation status info on polar bears to this site. My posts on population size and conservation status have been the most popular posts since November.
It’s that kind of attention that has made this site so popular: PolarBearScience will reach 750,000 views within the next couple of weeks (see “Blog Stats” lower right) – that’s right, 3/4 million views in less than four years. More than 400,000 readers have come here since the end of July 2012 to find out what’s really going on in the world of polar bears. Continue reading
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Population
Tagged conservation, Encyclopedia of Life, EOL, facts, IUCN, PBSG, polar bear, Polar Bear Specialist Group, population size, population trend, Red list, status
It’s been six months and still the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group has not updated its website with a link to the 2015 IUCN Red List assessment for polar bears, which was made public with some fanfare in November 2015. They are not the only group still ignoring the Red List decision but their silence is the most damning – the IUCN is the parent body of their organization.
On May 7th, I wrote to the IUCN Red List folks (email@example.com) about this situation (excerpt below) but as yet have received no reply.
Posted in Conservation Status, Population
Tagged advocacy, conservation, EOL, extinction, facts, IUCN, LiveScience, PBSG, polar bear, population, Red list, status, threatened, vulnerable, WWF
It’s easy to take polar bear research papers at face value but it’s not very scientific. The snappy sound bites provided for the benefit of the media – whether they’re embedded in press releases or in published abstracts – don’t cut it with trained scientists. Trained scientists read the whole report, critically examine the evidence it contains and assess that evidence within the context of previous knowledge. That’s what they are trained to do.
I challenge the superficial summary on the status of Alaskan polar bear populations provided by FactCheck.org journalist Vanessa Schipani. Schipani disputed a comment made by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski that, according to the latest research Alaskan polar bear population numbers are strong and healthy. I’m not especially interested in the political context of the statement, only Schipani’s bald claim that Murkowski’s declaration is false.
I’ve read all the relevant papers in full and I contend that the evidence supports Murkowski’s statement. Schipani is confusing the issue by regurgitating ‘facts’ that don’t tell the truth of the matter. By the sum of accounts, Alaskan polar bear populations are indeed healthy and strong – whether or not this status will continue is an entirely different question. Continue reading
Posted in Conservation Status, Population
Tagged Alaska, Beaufort, Chukchi, conservation, ESA, facts, IUCN, polar bear, population size, Red list, ringed seals, sea ice, status
What presents a bigger risk to current polar bear populations: natural hazards that have already proven deadly or potential, yet-to-be-realized threats prophesied to occur due to human activities? That’s a perfect question for International Polar Bear Day.
Dag Vongraven, chair of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group, remarked last year that “until 2001, everything was fine.”
Polar bear researchers thus assume that 2001 was the year climate change became the new over-hunting – but is it true? What are the relative harms presented by proven natural causes, potential human-caused threats, and predicted threats due to sea ice declines blamed on global warming? Considered objectively, is climate change really the single biggest threat to polar bear health and survival right now?
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Population, Summary
Tagged climate change, Derocher, endangered, extinction, facts, forecast, global warming, hazards, International Polar Bear Day, IUCN, natural causes, natural variability, over-hunting, poaching, polar bear, prediction, sea ice, snow, Stirling, threatened, threats, Vongraven