In order to better increase our understanding of polar bears and our ability to study them, non-invasive research is needed. Understanding all facets of an animal’s environmental science is key to effectively managing them. This longitudinal study of polar bears adds to research that principle investigator, Tom Smith, has been doing for over fourteen years. This research aims to provide information that will minimize the potential harmful impacts of humans and global climate change to polar bears.
Sponsor: Utah Zoological Society
Principal Investigator: Tom Smith
Many scientists perform studies that last several years monitoring animal’s surroundings that allow them to measure changes and fluctuations. This type of research is crucial because usually changes do occur over several years or decades rather than simply a few days, weeks, or months. Tom Smith’s research aims to increase our understanding of polar bear denning ecology and create statistics which can be evaluated for variation and deviation over the course of several years or decades.
This research is especially important because the impacts of global climate change are of chief concern to researchers working with the polar bear population. Northern latitudes are changing at faster rates than anywhere else on the planet. Research has already shown that in Alaska, polar bear denning habits are changing. The denning period has gotten shorter, and the bears are moving from thinning sea ice to more secure and stable land. This research seeks to help researchers and biologists better understand the influences of global climate change on this critical denning period in polar bears’ life cycles. It plans to also help give wildlife managers and other researchers in the industry a better understanding of polar bears’ activity patterns which will, in turn, minimize the potential impacts to polar bears.
Smith’s research will accomplish three main objectives by collecting data using camera systems, infrared surveys, radio-tagging, and bear dogs. First, he will collect information about the post-denning activity patterns of polar bears so that a point of reference can be gathered against which effects of global climate change can be compared in future years. Second, he will investigate factors which may impact the timing and use of bear den sites. Lastly, he will provide the US Fish and Wildlife Services with data that will help to lessen the human effects around polar bear maternal denning sites.
Since 2002, Tom Smith has been researching denning behaviors of polar bears. His previous research has produced five peer reviewed papers that have contributed to the improvement of technology to monitor polar bears. This research will add to ongoing polar bear studies by adding to the number of polar bear dens studied to improve monitoring capacity.
Through the success of this study, a clearer understanding will be gained of polar bear’s individual variation and patterns of den ecology. This will reduce the harmful impacts of global climate change as well as human interaction on polar bears. This information will help wildlife managers and biologists to determine the best resources and improvements that can be made in order to aid the polar bear population.