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The role of satellite telemetry data in 21st century conservation of polar bears (Ursus maritimus)

April 14, 2022

Satellite telemetry (ST) has played a critical role in the management and conservation of polar bears (Ursus maritimus) over the last 50 years. ST data provide biological information relevant to subpopulation delineation, movements, habitat use, maternal denning, health, human-bear interactions, and accurate estimates of vital rates and abundance. Given that polar bears are distributed at low densities over vast and remote habitats, much of the information provided by ST data cannot be collected by other means. Obtaining ST data for polar bears requires chemical immobilization and application of a tracking device. Although immobilization has not been found to have negative effects beyond a several-day reduction in activity, over the last few decades opposition to immobilization and deployment of satellite-linked radio collars has resulted in a lack of current ST data in many of the 19 recognized polar bear subpopulations. Here, we review the uses of ST data for polar bears and evaluate its role in addressing 21st century conservation and management challenges, which include estimation of sustainable harvest rates, understanding the impacts of climate warming, delineating critical habitat, and assessing potential anthropogenic impacts from tourism, resource development and extraction. We found that in subpopulations where ST data have been consistently collected, information was available to estimate vital rates and subpopulation density, document the effects of sea-ice loss, and inform management related to subsistence harvest and regulatory requirements. In contrast, a lack of ST data in some subpopulations resulted in increased bias and uncertainty in ecological and demographic parameters, which has a range of negative consequences. As sea-ice loss due to climate warming continues, there is a greater need to monitor polar bear distribution, habitat use, abundance, and subpopulation connectivity. We conclude that continued collection of ST data will be critically important for polar bear management and conservation in the 21st century and that the benefits of immobilizing small numbers of individual polar bears in order to deploy ST devices significantly outweigh the risks.

Publication Year 2022
Title The role of satellite telemetry data in 21st century conservation of polar bears (Ursus maritimus)
DOI 10.3389/fmars.2022.816666
Authors Kristin L. Laidre, George M. Durner, Nicholas J Lunn, Eric V. Regehr, Todd C. Atwood, Karyn D. Rode, Jon Aars, Heli Routti, Øystein Wiig, Markus Dyck, Evan S. Richardson, Stephen D Atkinson, Stanislav Belikov, Ian Stirling
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Frontiers in Marine Science
Index ID 70230678
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center Biology MFEB