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USU Quinney Fellow's Arctic Research Featured in Nat’l Geographic News

Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013

illustration for National Geographic News
In a video published by National Geographic, USU Quinney Fellow David Iles, a doctoral student in USU's Department of Wildland Resources and Ecology Center, shares insights about polar bear behavior collected during field research in Canada.
USU ecologist David Iles
USU ecologist David Iles holds two Snow Goose goslings at a field research site along Hudson Bay in Manitoba, Canada. The doctoral student conducts research with David Koons, USU associate professor of animal population ecology.

As Canada’s polar bears and waterfowl become more frequent, albeit, uneasy neighbors, the pale bruins may depend more and more on the birds to supplement their diet.


Those are research findings of Utah State University doctoral student David Iles and his faculty mentor David Koons featured in the Oct. 21, 2013, online edition of National Geographic News.


“Sea ice is melting sooner, on average, and polar bears are coming back to shore earlier,” reports Iles in the article. “So what we’re seeing is an increased overlap with nesting waterfowl. That’s what we’re trying to study.”


Shrinking Arctic sea ice affords the bears fewer opportunities in warmer months to pursue seals, their favorite food source, and replenish critical fat stores needed for survival.


With support from the National Geographic Committee on Research and Exploration, Iles, a Quinney Fellow in USU’s Quinney College of Natural Resources, and Koons, associate professor in the Department of Wildland Resources, have studied the bears’ predation on birds and their eggs along the western shores of Hudson Bay for several years with colleagues from the American Museum of Natural History.


Iles and team placed remote wildlife cameras at various locations this past June [2013] to capture video footage of the bears as they preyed on snow geese and ducks.


“[These are] some of the most exciting shots of the summer for me,” says Iles, of the video, which shows a polar bear nosing a nest , then ambling away with a perfectly intact goose egg in its teeth.


“To me, it’s really cool because I don’t usually get to see polar bears that close,” he says. “(With) most of our work, we’re looking at the bears through spotting scopes or from helicopters.”


Iles says the whole phenomenon of polar bears eating eggs is something scientists have known about for a while.


“The question really is how much they’re doing it and is it increasing over time because of climate change,” he says.


The footage revealed other surprising observations about the bears’ behavior.


“(We saw) a female bear with her cubs and how they learned how to hunt,” Iles says. “Over the course of several days, we watched them actually get better at it. They began systematically hunting for nests.”


Related links:


Contact: David Iles, david.iles@aggiemail.usu.edu

Contact: David Koons, david.koons@usu.edu

Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, 435-797-3517, maryann.muffoletto@usu.edu

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