Historical population dynamics of ringed seals, Pusa hispida, of the Svalbard archipelago:Predicting the response to climate change

Andrea A. Cabrera, Jurjan van der Zee, Morten Tange Olsen, Kit M. Kovacs, Christian Lydersen, Jon Aars, Lutz Bachmann, Oystein Wiig, Martine Bérubé, Per Palsboll

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractAcademic


The ringed seal (Pusa hispida) is a pagophilic seal species with a life cycle closely associated
with the sea ice and also the key prey species for the polar bear (Ursus maritimus). Global
warming is rapidly diminishing the extent of summer sea ice in the Arctic, greatly reducing
habitat availability for ringed seals and indirectly influencing the prey availability for polar
bears. Predicting the effects of climate change on the abundance of ringed seals is essential for
effective long-term management, but is challenging due to the complex relationship between
climate change and ecological dynamics. Understanding how the historical population
dynamics of ringed seals have responded to past climate may provide insights into the
responses to current and future climate changes. In this study we have employed the Bayesian
skyline plots, a coalescence-based method for inference of historical population dynamics,
using mitochondrial DNA control region nucleotide sequences collected from ringed seals and
polar bears at the Svalbard. Our analysis revealed a pattern of population expansion followed
by contraction in ringed seals, suggesting a possible correlation with historical sea ice
dynamics. Preliminary results from the polar bear suggest a correlation with ringed seal
population dynamics. Additional on-going data analyses of a large number of high-resolution
SNPs will add further rigor to our study. Our findings have implications for conservation of
ringed seal and polar bear, in addition to providing insights into the evolutionary ecology of
key polar marine mammals in the Arctic.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 9-Apr-2013
Event27th Conference of the European Cetacean Society: Interdisciplinary approaches in the study of marine mammals -
Duration: 8-Apr-201310-Apr-2013


Conference27th Conference of the European Cetacean Society

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