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Sci Total Environ. 2015 May 1;514:371-8. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.02.007. Epub 2015 Feb 11.

Establishing a definition of polar bear (Ursus maritimus) health: a guide to research and management activities.

Author information

1
Center for Epidemiology and Animal Health, Science Technology and Analysis Services, Veterinary Services, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, USA. Electronic address: Kelly.A.Patyk@aphis.usda.gov.
2
Colorado State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, Colorado State University, USA.
3
National Wildlife Research Center, Veterinary Services, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, USA.
4
Aarhus University, Faculty of Science and Technology, Department of Bioscience, Arctic Research Centre (ARC), Denmark.
5
Polar Science Center, Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington, USA.
6
Wildlife Research and Monitoring Section, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Canada.
7
Natural History Museum, University of Oslo, Norway.
8
Norwegian Polar Institute, Norway.
9
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Marine Mammals Management Program, USA.
10
Center for Epidemiology and Animal Health, Science Technology and Analysis Services, Veterinary Services, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, USA.
11
U.S. Geological Survey, Alaska Science Center, USA. Electronic address: tatwood@usgs.gov.

Abstract

The meaning of health for wildlife and perspectives on how to assess and measure health, are not well characterized. For wildlife at risk, such as some polar bear (Ursus maritimus) subpopulations, establishing comprehensive monitoring programs that include health status is an emerging need. Environmental changes, especially loss of sea ice habitat, have raised concern about polar bear health. Effective and consistent monitoring of polar bear health requires an unambiguous definition of health. We used the Delphi method of soliciting and interpreting expert knowledge to propose a working definition of polar bear health and to identify current concerns regarding health, challenges in measuring health, and important metrics for monitoring health. The expert opinion elicited through the exercise agreed that polar bear health is defined by characteristics and knowledge at the individual, population, and ecosystem level. The most important threats identified were in decreasing order: climate change, increased nutritional stress, chronic physiological stress, harvest management, increased exposure to contaminants, increased frequency of human interaction, diseases and parasites, and increased exposure to competitors. Fifteen metrics were identified to monitor polar bear health. Of these, indicators of body condition, disease and parasite exposure, contaminant exposure, and reproductive success were ranked as most important. We suggest that a cumulative effects approach to research and monitoring will improve the ability to assess the biological, ecological, and social determinants of polar bear health and provide measurable objectives for conservation goals and priorities and to evaluate progress.

KEYWORDS:

Delphi; Polar bear; Survey; Ursus maritimus; Wildlife health

PMID:
25679818
DOI:
10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.02.007
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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