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ESR 46:105-120 (2021)  -  DOI:

A novel mark-recapture-recovery survey using genetic sampling for polar bears Ursus maritimus in Baffin Bay

Stephen N. Atkinson1,*, Kristin L. Laidre2,3, Todd W. Arnold4, Seth Stapleton4, Eric V. Regehr2, Erik W. Born3, Øystein Wiig5, Markus Dyck1,, Nicholas J. Lunn6, Harry L. Stern2, David Paetkau7

1Wildlife Research Section, Department of Environment, Government of Nunavut, Igloolik, NU X0A 0L0, Canada
2Polar Science Center, Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98105, USA
3Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, 3900 Nuuk, Greenland
4Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108, USA
5Natural History Museum, University of Oslo, 0318, Oslo, Norway
6Environment and Climate Change Canada, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB T6G 2E9, Canada
7Wildlife Genetics International, Nelson, BC V1L 5P9, Canada
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Changes in sea-ice dynamics are affecting polar bears Ursus maritimus across their circumpolar range, which highlights the importance of periodic demographic assessments to inform management and conservation. We used genetic mark-recapture-recovery to derive estimates of abundance and survival for the Baffin Bay (BB) polar bear subpopulation—the first time this method has been used successfully for this species. Genetic data from tissue samples we collected via biopsy darting were combined with historical physical capture and harvest recovery data. The combined data set consisted of 1410 genetic samples (2011-2013), 914 physical captures (1993-1995, 1997), and 234 harvest returns of marked bears (1993-2013). The estimate of mean subpopulation abundance was 2826 (95% CI = 2284-3367) in 2012-2013. Estimates of annual survival (mean ± SE) were 0.90 ± 0.05 and 0.78 ± 0.06 for females and males age ≥2 yr, respectively. The proportion of total mortality of adult females and males that was attributed to legal harvest was 0.16 ± 0.05 and 0.26 ± 0.06, respectively. Remote sensing sea-ice data, telemetry data, and spatial distribution of onshore sampling indicated that polar bears were more likely to use offshore sea-ice habitat during the 1990s sampling period compared to the 2010s. Furthermore, in the 1990s, sampling of deep fjords and inland areas was limited, and no offshore sampling occurred in either time period, which precluded comparisons of abundance between the 1993-1997 and 2011-2013 study periods. Our findings demonstrate that genetic sampling can be a practical method for demographic assessment of polar bears over large spatial and temporal scales.

KEY WORDS: Genetic mark-recapture-recovery · Polar bear · Baffin Bay · Abundance · Survival · Biopsy · Ursus maritimus

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Cite this article as: Atkinson SN, Laidre KL, Arnold TW, Stapleton S and others (2021) A novel mark-recapture-recovery survey using genetic sampling for polar bears Ursus maritimus in Baffin Bay. Endang Species Res 46:105-120.

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