DNA from Snow Tracks – A Non-Invasive Tool for Polar Bear Conservation

Polar bears, iconic symbols of the Arctic, face existential threats due to the climate crisis. Scientists have developed a non-invasive tool to monitor and conserve these elusive creatures without causing stress or risk. The tool involves extracting DNA from snow tracks, providing valuable insights into their populations and behavior.

Study Details

  1. Forensic DNA Techniques: Inspired by forensic techniques used for tiny, degraded DNA samples, scientists applied similar methods to DNA found in snow tracks.
  2. Advantages Over Traditional Monitoring:
    • Eliminates the need for physically capturing bears, reducing risk to both animals and humans.
    • Addresses concerns of some local indigenous communities associated with capturing bears.
  3. Environmental DNA in Snow Tracks:
    • Traditional environmental DNA from animal feces may not always provide sufficient quality for analysis.
    • Snow tracks contain fresh cells with intact DNA due to the cold temperature, serving as natural storage.

Research Findings

  1. Sample Collection:
    • Snow was collected from individual tracks made by Alaskan polar bears and Swedish Eurasian lynxes in both wild and captivity.
  2. DNA Retrieval:
    • Nuclear DNA from 87.5% of wild polar bear tracks and 59.1% of wild lynx tracks could be retrieved.
    • 13 wild polar bear samples were genotyped, identifying 12 different individuals.

Conservation Implications

  1. Challenges in Polar Bear Monitoring:
    • Polar bear monitoring in the Arctic is challenging, expensive, and time-consuming.
    • Traditional methods involve physical capture, which can be dangerous and stressful for both bears and humans.
  2. Non-Invasive DNA Collection:
    • The non-invasive technique of extracting DNA from snow tracks offers a novel and efficient approach to polar bear research.
  3. Community Involvement:
    • Scientists hope that this method can be embraced by the polar bear research community, involving hunters, volunteers, and Indigenous communities for a comprehensive conservation effort.
  4. Benefits:
    • Enhances understanding of polar bear populations and behavior.
    • Facilitates conflict management with humans.



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