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Eric Regehr

Principal Quantitative Ecologist





Department Affiliation

Polar Science Center


B.S. Chemical Engineering, University of Kansas, 1998

Ph.D. Zoology & Physiology, University of Wyoming - Laramie, 2009


2000-present and while at APL-UW

Transient benefits of climate change for a high-Arctic polar bear (Ursus maritimus) subpopulation

Laidre, K.L., S.N. Atkinson, E.V. Regehr, H.L. Stern, E.W. Born, Ø. Wiig, N.J. Lunn, M Dyck, P. Heagerty, B.R. Cohen, "Transient benefits of climate change for a high-Arctic polar bear (Ursus maritimus) subpopulation," Global Change Biol., 26, 6251-6265, doi:10.1111/gcb.15286, 2020.

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1 Nov 2020

Kane Basin (KB) is one of the world's most northerly polar bear (Ursus maritimus) subpopulations, where bears have historically inhabited a mix of thick multiyear and annual sea ice year‐round. Currently, KB is transitioning to a seasonally ice‐free region because of climate change. This ecological shift has been hypothesized to benefit polar bears in the near‐term due to thinner ice with increased biological production, although this has not been demonstrated empirically. We assess sea‐ice changes in KB together with changes in polar bear movements, seasonal ranges, body condition, and reproductive metrics obtained from capture–recapture (physical and genetic) and satellite telemetry studies during two study periods (1993–1997 and 2012–2016). The annual cycle of sea‐ice habitat in KB shifted from a year‐round ice platform (~50% coverage in summer) in the 1990s to nearly complete melt‐out in summer (<5% coverage) in the 2010s. The mean duration between sea‐ice retreat and advance increased from 109 to 160 days (p = .004). Between the 1990s and 2010s, adult female (AF) seasonal ranges more than doubled in spring and summer and were significantly larger in all months. Body condition scores improved for all ages and both sexes. Mean litter sizes of cubs‐of‐the‐year (C0s) and yearlings (C1s), and the number of C1s per AF, did not change between decades. The date of spring sea‐ice retreat in the previous year was positively correlated with C1 litter size, suggesting smaller litters following years with earlier sea‐ice breakup. Our study provides evidence for range expansion, improved body condition, and stable reproductive performance in the KB polar bear subpopulation. These changes, together with a likely increasing subpopulation abundance, may reflect the shift from thick, multiyear ice to thinner, seasonal ice with higher biological productivity. The duration of these benefits is unknown because, under unmitigated climate change, continued sea‐ice loss is expected to eventually have negative demographic and ecological effects on all polar bears.

Interrelated ecological impacts of climate change on an apex predator

Laidre, K.L., S. Atkinson, E.V. Regehr, H.L. Stern, E.W. Born, Ø. Wiig, N.J. Lunn, and M. Dyck, "Interrelated ecological impacts of climate change on an apex predator," Ecol. Appl., 30, e02071, doi:10.1002/eap.2071, 2020.

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1 Jun 2020

Climate change has broad ecological implications for species that rely on sensitive habitats. For some top predators, loss of habitat is expected to lead to cascading behavioral, nutritional, and reproductive changes that ultimately accelerate population declines. In the case of the polar bear (Ursus maritimus), declining Arctic sea ice reduces access to prey and lengthens seasonal fasting periods. We used a novel combination of physical capture, biopsy darting, and visual aerial observation data to project reproductive performance for polar bears by linking sea ice loss to changes in habitat use, body condition (i.e., fatness), and cub production. Satellite telemetry data from 43 (1991–1997) and 38 (2009–2015) adult female polar bears in the Baffin Bay subpopulation showed that bears now spend an additional 30 d on land (90 d in total) in the 2000s compared to the 1990s, a change closely correlated with changes in spring sea ice breakup and fall sea ice formation. Body condition declined for all sex, age, and reproductive classes and was positively correlated with sea ice availability in the current and previous year. Furthermore, cub litter size was positively correlated with maternal condition and spring breakup date (i.e., later breakup leading to larger litters), and negatively correlated with the duration of the ice‐free period (i.e., longer ice‐free periods leading to smaller litters). Based on these relationships, we projected reproductive performance three polar bear generations into the future (approximately 35 yr). Results indicate that two‐cub litters, previously the norm, could largely disappear from Baffin Bay as sea ice loss continues. Our findings demonstrate how concurrent analysis of multiple data types collected over long periods from polar bears can provide a mechanistic understanding of the ecological implications of climate change. This information is needed for long‐term conservation planning, which includes quantitative harvest risk assessments that incorporate estimated or assumed trends in future environmental carrying capacity.

Integrated population modeling provides the first empirical estimates of vital rates and abundance for polar bears in the Chukchi Sea

Regehr, E.V., N.J. Hostetter, R.R. Wilson, K.D. Rode, M. St. Martin, and S.J. Converse, "Integrated population modeling provides the first empirical estimates of vital rates and abundance for polar bears in the Chukchi Sea," Sci. Rep., 8, 16780, doi:10.1038/s41598-018-34824-7, 2018.

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14 Nov 2018

Large carnivores are imperiled globally, and characteristics making them vulnerable to extinction (e.g., low densities and expansive ranges) also make it difficult to estimate demographic parameters needed for management. Here we develop an integrated population model to analyze capture-recapture, radiotelemetry, and count data for the Chukchi Sea subpopulation of polar bears (Ursus maritimus), 2008–2016. Our model addressed several challenges in capture-recapture studies for polar bears by including a multievent structure reflecting location and life history states, while accommodating state uncertainty. Female breeding probability was 0.83 (95% credible interval [CRI] = 0.71–0.90), with litter sizes of 2.18 (95% CRI = 1.71–2.82) for age-zero and 1.61 (95% CRI = 1.46–1.80) for age-one cubs. Total adult survival was 0.90 (95% CRI = 0.86–0.92) for females and 0.89 (95% CRI = 0.83–0.93) for males. Spring on-ice densities west of Alaska were 0.0030 bears/km2 (95% CRI = 0.0016–0.0060), similar to 1980s-era density estimates although methodological differences complicate comparison. Abundance of the Chukchi Sea subpopulation, derived by extrapolating density from the study area using a spatially-explicit habitat metric, was 2,937 bears (95% CRI = 1,552–5,944). Our findings are consistent with other lines of evidence suggesting the Chukchi Sea subpopulation has been productive in recent years, although it is uncertain how long this will continue given sea-ice loss due to climate change.

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In The News

Some polar bears in far north are getting short-term benefit from thinning ice

UW News, Hannah Hickey

A small subpopulation of polar bears lives on what used to be thick, multiyear sea ice far above the Arctic Circle. They are healthier as conditions are warming because thinning and shrinking multiyear sea ice is allowing more sunlight to reach the ocean surface, which makes the ecosystem more productive. photo: Carsten Egevang

23 Sep 2020

Polar bears are getting thinner and having fewer cubs

CNN, Scottie Andrew

The impact of the climate crisis is becoming more and more obvious to humans and their animal neighbors. But among all species, polar bears might be some of the hardest hit.

14 Feb 2020

Polar bears in Baffin Bay skinnier, having fewer cubs due to less sea ice

UW News, Hannah Hickey

Polar bears are spending more time on land than they did in the 1990s due to reduced sea ice, new University of Washington-led research shows. Bears in Baffin Bay are getting thinner and adult females are having fewer cubs than when sea ice was more available.

12 Feb 2020

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