First Time for Polar Bear Field Research

10/4/2011 9:08:40 PM

First Time for Polar Bear Field Research


Hello from Peawanuk!

My name is Brandon Laforest and I'm a PhD student at York University in Toronto, Ontario. I was very fortunate to be given the opportunity to join the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources on this aerial survey, and have really enjoyed my time in northern Ontario. I've had the pleasure of seeing a few wild polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba, during biodiversity fieldwork I conducted in previous years, but this is my first time engaging in polar bear field research.

Through observing hundreds of bears from the helicopter, and from having the privilege of seeing the beauty of their fall onshore habitat along the northern Ontario coast, I've gained a much heightened understanding and appreciation for the life history of polar bears. Through observing caring mother bears with their cubs, subadult bears navigating their way through their first summers alone, the powerful and stoic large adult males, as well as pregnant females venturing inland as they prepare to den; being able to see the whole polar bear life cycle on display is simply incredible.

Three bears in autumn setting
For the polar bears of Southern Hudson Bay, the fall offshore habitat is quite different from the frozen landscapes of winter.

In my work, I intend to analyze archived and future fat samples from Southern Hudson Bay polar bears to link changes in polar bear foraging and nutrition to underlying shifts in ecosystem functioning. Top predators such as polar bears are strongly affected by changes in lower trophic levels, and can provide an indication of underlying ecological shifts that may not otherwise be apparent, especially in the early stages. With the Hudson Bay region undergoing changes in species composition associated with global warming, I aim to monitor any future changes in polar bear diets in this region compared to historical records.

I've learned a lot on this trip working with Marty, Kevin and Doug. Just as important, being in this region and seeing hundreds of polar bears in their natural habitat has inspired me immensely. I look forward to the coming years of my doctoral work with great anticipation, and already can't wait to get back to this region and be among the bears again!

From the field in Ontario's Hudson Bay lowlands with Dr. Martyn Obbard, Research Scientist, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR); Kevin Middel, Analytical Biologist, OMNR and M.Sc. student, Trent University; Brandon Laforest, Ph.D. student, York University, and Doug Holtby, Helicopter Pilot, OMNR.

Photo ©Brandon Laforest, taken during an arctic spring.

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