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Keywords:

  • Adipose tissue;
  • biological validation;
  • condition index;
  • marine mammal;
  • monitoring;
  • quality control

Abstract

Body condition is a key indicator of individual and population health. Yet, there is little consensus as to the most appropriate condition index (CI), and most of the currently used CIs have not been thoroughly validated and are logistically challenging. Adipose samples from large datasets of capture biopsied, remote biopsied, and harvested polar bears were used to validate adipose lipid content as a CI via tests of accuracy, precision, sensitivity, biopsy depth, and storage conditions and comparisons to established CIs, to measures of health and to demographic and ecological parameters. The lipid content analyses of even very small biopsy samples were highly accurate and precise, but results were influenced by tissue depth at which the sample was taken. Lipid content of capture biopsies and samples from harvested adult females was correlated with established CIs and/or conformed to expected biological variation and ecological changes. However, lipid content of remote biopsies was lower than capture biopsies and harvested samples, possibly due to lipid loss during dart retrieval. Lipid content CI is a biologically relevant, relatively inexpensive and rapidly assessed CI and can be determined routinely for individuals and populations in order to infer large-scale spatial and long-term temporal trends. As it is possible to collect samples during routine harvesting or remotely using biopsy darts, monitoring and assessment of body condition can be accomplished without capture and handling procedures or noninvasively, which are methods that are preferred by local communities. However, further work is needed to apply the method to remote biopsies.