Original Paper

Polar Biology

, Volume 33, Issue 1, pp 115-124

Reconstructing the reproductive history of female polar bears using cementum patterns of premolar teeth

  • Sarah MedillAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, University of AlbertaDepartment of Environment, Government of Nunavut Email author 
  • , Andrew E. DerocherAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta
  • , Ian StirlingAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, University of AlbertaWildlife Research Division, Science and Technology, Environment Canada
  • , Nick LunnAffiliated withWildlife Research Division, Science and Technology, Environment Canada

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Premolar teeth collected from 220 adult female polar bears (Ursus maritimus) from western Hudson Bay, Canada, were examined to determine whether past reproductive events are recorded in cementum. The widths of annular cementum growth layer groups (GLGs) were measured and compared as proportional width index (PWI) values to correct for age and body size bias. Known reproductive states (pregnant, with cubs, or with yearlings) were used to confirm and calibrate cementum annuli. Significant differences in PWI were observed between GLGs formed the year females were pregnant versus when accompanied by cubs or yearlings. The probability of a female having produced a cub in adulthood was determined by fitting a logistic regression model between the ΔPWI of females when pregnant and with their cubs. Logistic regression of ΔPWI (β0 = −0.229, β1 = −13.465, G 2 = 46.55, df = 1, P < 0.001) correctly classified the presence or absence of cubs in 72% of GLGs. Cementum width did not vary between different litter sizes. Observations of females with early litter loss suggests that longer periods of lactation contributes to decreased cementum width and therefore cementum may record a minimum age of litter survival. Predictions of litter production rate (0.43 litters/female/year) derived from cementum were similar to field observations; however, age at first parturition was underestimated by 1 year. We conclude that patterns of cementum deposition may be useful to determine individual reproductive histories and establish course estimates of reproductive parameters when regular field observations are not feasible. We also conclude that reproductive parameters derived from cementum are not adequate on their own for monitoring populations which are in decline or under stress and field observation should not be replaced under these conditions.


Cementum Growth layer group Incremental line Recording structure Reproduction Ursus maritimus