Declines in sea-ice habitats have resulted in declining stature, productivity, and survival of polar bears in some regions. With continuing sea-ice declines, negative population effects are projected to expand throughout the polar bear's range. Precise causes of diminished polar bear life history performance are unknown, however, climate and sea-ice condition change are expected to adversely impact polar bear (Ursus maritimus) health and population dynamics. As apex predators in the Arctic, polar bears integrate the status of lower trophic levels and are therefore sentinels of ecosystem health. Arctic residents feed at the apex of the ecosystem, thus polar bears can serve as indicators of human health in the Arctic. Despite their value as indicators of ecosystem welfare, population-level health data for U.S. polar bears are lacking. We present hematological reference ranges for southern Beaufort Sea polar bears. Hematological parameters in southern Beaufort Sea polar bears varied by age, geographic location, and reproductive status. Total leukocytes, lymphocytes, monocytes, eosinophils, and serum immunoglobulin G were significantly greater in males than females. These measures were greater in nonlactating females ages ???5, than lactating adult females ages ???5, suggesting that females encumbered by young may be less resilient to new immune system challenges that may accompany ongoing climate change. Hematological values established here provide a necessary baseline for anticipated changes in health as arctic temperatures warm and sea-ice declines accelerate. Data suggest that females with dependent young may be most vulnerable to these changes and should therefore be a targeted cohort for monitoring in this sentinel. ?? 2010 International Association for Ecology and Health.
Additional publication details
Hematology of southern Beaufort Sea polar bears (2005-2007): Biomarker for an arctic ecosystem health sentinel