Summary of Out of Balance in the Arctic

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Bear metabolism expert John Whiteman rigorously assesses this landmark polar bear study, outlining the novel molecular approach that leads to important insights for polar bear conservation. He explains how polar bear metabolism militates against polar bear survival in the face of climate change. He also cautions that both seasonal and reproductive changes in metabolism remain unknown, but could significantly impact their chances of survival. getAbstract recommends this article for anyone concerned with arctic ecosystems and their broad impact on climate change.

In this summary, you will learn

  • How researchers use new biochemical tracing methods to accurately measure the energy demands of both wild and captive polar bears;
  • Why polar bears have particularly high energy needs compared to other bears; and
  • How climate change impacts polar bear energy balance, tipping the scales toward starvation and extinction.
 

About the Author

John Whiteman is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of New Mexico and consultant for the San Diego Zoo Conservation Institute. He uses biochemical tracing methods to study bear metabolism.

 

Summary

How do researchers measure polar bears energy demands?

In the past, researchers predicted polar bears’ energy demands based on their weight or food intake. This is the first time researchers have used biochemistry to accurately measure polar bear energy expenditure. By measuring oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production, the researchers calculated the energy burned by both wild and captive polar bears. The researchers measured the metabolic demands of a sedentary polar bear in captivity to determine its metabolism at rest, which is the energy required to perform basic body functions like breathing and digestion. They also measured the metabolism of active wild polar bears, which includes the energy needed for hunting and other activities. They injected wild bears with isotope-labeled water and took blood samples 10 days later. By analyzing the amount of isotope-labeled hydrogen and oxygen remaining in the blood, the researchers were able to calculate the amount of carbon dioxide the bears had exhaled and the amount of energy they had needed.


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