Simulating changes in polar bear subpopulation growth rate due to legacy persistent organic pollutants - Temporal and spatial trends

Renske P.J. Hoondert, Ad M.J. Ragas, A. Jan Hendriks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Although atmospheric concentrations of many conventional persistent organic pollutants (POPs) have decreased in the Arctic over the past few decades, levels of most POPs and mercury remain high since the 1990s or start to increase again in Arctic areas, especially polar bears. So far, studies generally focused on individual effects of POPs, and do not directly link POP concentrations in prey species to population-specific parameters. In this study we therefore aimed to estimate the effect of legacy POPs and mercury on population growth rate of nineteen polar bear subpopulations. We modelled population development in three scenarios, based on species sensitivity distributions (SSDs) derived for POPs based on ecotoxicity data for endothermic species. In the first scenario, ecotoxicity data for polar bears were based on the HC50 (the concentration at which 50% of the species is affected). The other two scenarios were based on the HC5 and HC95. Considerable variation in effects of POPs could be observed among the scenarios. In our intermediate scenario, we predicted subpopulation decline for ten out of 15 polar bear subpopulations. The estimated population growth rate was least reduced in Gulf of Boothia and Foxe Basin. On average, PCB concentrations in prey (in μg/g toxic equivalency (TEQ)) posed the largest threat to polar bear subpopulations, with negative modelled population growth rates for the majority of subpopulations. We did not find a correlation between modelled population changes and monitored population trends for the majority of chemical-subpopulation combinations. Modelled population growth rates increased over time, implying a decreasing effect of PCBs, DDTs, and mercury. Polar bear subpopulations are reportedly still declining in four out of the seven subpopulations for which sufficient long-term monitoring data is available, as reported by the IUCN-PBSG. This implies that other emerging pollutants or other anthropogenic stressors may affect polar bear subpopulations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number142380
Number of pages14
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2021


  • Intrinsic growth rate
  • POPs
  • Polar bear populations
  • Risk assessment


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