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Abstract Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) currently receive much attention in the context of global climate change. However, there are other stressors that might threaten the viability of polar bear populations as well, such as exposure to anthropogenic pollutants. Lipophilic organic compounds bio-accumulate and bio-magnify in the food chain, leading to high concentrations at the level of top-predators. In Arctic wildlife, including the polar bear, various adverse health effects have been related to internal concentrations of commercially used anthropogenic chemicals like PCB and DDT. The extent to which these individual health effects are associated to population-level effects is, however, unknown. In this study we assembled data on adipose tissue concentrations of ∑PCB, ∑DDT, dieldrin and ∑PBDE in individual polar bears from peer-reviewed scientific literature. Data were available for 14 out of the 19 subpopulations. We found that internal concentrations of these contaminants exceed threshold values for adverse individual health effects in several subpopulations. In an exploratory regression analysis we identified a clear negative correlation between polar bear population density and sub-population specific contaminant concentrations in adipose tissue. The results suggest that adverse health effects of contaminants in individual polar bears may scale up to population-level consequences. Our study highlights the need to consider contaminant exposure along with other threats in polar bear population viability analyses.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)50-57
Number of pages8
JournalMarine Environmental Research
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2016

    Research areas

  • Polar bear, Ursus maritimus, Population effects, Pollution, Bioaccumulation, Arctic, PCB, DDT, Dieldrin, PBDE, international

ID: 2497427