Evaluating the Effects of Environmental Processes on Polar Bear Health
Traditionally, wildlife health has been assessed by looking for evidence of disease in individuals and extrapolating inferred effects to populations. Instead, we suggest that evaluating the health of wildlife populations requires understanding and requires a paradigm shift from disease-centric to health-centric. This is particularly important for populations impacted by climate change. The Arctic is the biome most notably transformed by climate change. Changes driven by a warming climate include loss of sea ice, increased temperatures, and changes in precipitation. Polar bears are becoming increasingly vulnerable to these effects, notably the loss of sea ice which leads to changes in habitat use and nutrition. Using 35 years of blood-based data, we are investigating the influences and synergies of these changes on southern Beaufort Sea polar bear physiology. We defined physiologic reference intervals for commonly measured biomarkers. Then evaluated how environmental processes influence physiologic processes. In addition, we are using metagenomic techniques to describe the polar bear virome as a tool to better understand potential pathogen-driven risk. Our research provides a framework for how blood-based biomarkers can be used to understand wildlife population health.