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Polar bears’ ‘walking hibernation’ not much of an energy saver

Summertime dips in activity and body temperature may not be enough to protect bears from challenges of climate change

By
3:17pm, July 16, 2015
Polar bear

BUDGETING ENERGY  Polar bears, like this youngster on pack ice over the Arctic Ocean, have to learn to cope with lean times in summer. But their warm-weather energy-saving tactics may not give them much leeway as a changing climate extends hungry times.

Polar bears’ normal summertime energy-saver mode is called “walking hibernation.” But it may not be drastic enough to compensate for lengthening warm seasons — and accompanying food shortages — as climate changes, researchers say.

What happens to summertime bears is more like fasting than like winter hibernation, says ecologist John Whiteman of the University of Wyoming in Laramie.

Biologists suspected a general slowdown of the bears’ metabolism when the springtime seal-hunting bonanza ends as sea ice recedes, but measurements have been sparse. Using data-collecting collars and implants, Whiteman and colleagues showed that polar bears following the receding ice out to sea, as well as the left-behinds onshore, were less active in summer.

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