Modeling Population-Level Consequences of Polychlorinated Biphenyl Exposure in East Greenland Polar Bears

  • Viola PavlovaEmail author
  • Volker Grimm
  • Rune Dietz
  • Christian Sonne
  • Katrin Vorkamp
  • Frank F. Rigét
  • Robert J. Letcher
  • Kim Gustavson
  • Jean-Pierre Desforges
  • Jacob Nabe-Nielsen


Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) can cause endocrine disruption, cancer, immunosuppression, or reproductive failure in animals. We used an individual-based model to explore whether and how PCB-associated reproductive failure could affect the dynamics of a hypothetical polar bear (Ursus maritimus) population exposed to PCBs to the same degree as the East Greenland subpopulation. Dose–response data from experimental studies on a surrogate species, the mink (Mustela vision), were used in the absence of similar data for polar bears. Two alternative types of reproductive failure in relation to maternal sum-PCB concentrations were considered: increased abortion rate and increased cub mortality. We found that the quantitative impact of PCB-induced reproductive failure on population growth rate depended largely on the actual type of reproductive failure involved. Critical potencies of the dose–response relationship for decreasing the population growth rate were established for both modeled types of reproductive failure. Comparing the model predictions of the age-dependent trend of sum-PCBs concentrations in females with actual field measurements from East Greenland indicated that it was unlikely that PCB exposure caused a high incidence of abortions in the subpopulation. However, on the basis of this analysis, it could not be excluded that PCB exposure contributes to higher cub mortality. Our results highlight the necessity for further research on the possible influence of PCBs on polar bear reproduction regarding their physiological pathway. This includes determining the exact cause of reproductive failure, i.e., in utero exposure versus lactational exposure of offspring; the timing of offspring death; and establishing the most relevant reference metrics for the dose–response relationship.


PCBs Population Growth Rate Polar Bear Reproductive Failure Seal Blubber 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank Jonas Brønlund, Erik Born, and Aqqaluq Rosing Asvid, who helped to obtain the polar bears, together with the local hunters in East Greenland. Lene Bruun, Annegrete L. Jungqvist, Birgit Groth, and Sigga Joensen are acknowledged for their work in the laboratory together with Eric Pelletier, David Blair, and Wouter Gebbink in the OCRL/Letcher Labs at EC-NWRC where the polar bear OHC analysis of the majority of polar bear fat/adipose tissue samples were performed. Our aging of individual polar bears was assisted by Erik W. Born, M. Kierkegaard, S. Joensen, and L. Bruun. This study was financially supported by the European Union under the 7th Framework Programme (Project acronym CREAM, contract number PITN-GA-2009-238148). The early sampling of polar bears in Greenland was funded by the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources (Nuuk), Aage V. Jensen’s Foundation. Samplings since 1999 and all chemical analyses were funded by a number of projects under the Danish Cooperation for Environment in the Arctic programme, including the CORE programme and the large scale IPY programme “Bear Health,” which was also supported by The Commission for Scientific Research in Greenland and The Prince Albert II Foundation for the POP time trend analysis.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 10 kb)
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Supplementary material 2 (EPS 91 kb)
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Supplementary material 4 (DOCX 67 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Viola Pavlova
    • 1
    Email author
  • Volker Grimm
    • 3
    • 4
  • Rune Dietz
    • 1
    • 2
  • Christian Sonne
    • 1
    • 2
  • Katrin Vorkamp
    • 2
    • 6
  • Frank F. Rigét
    • 1
  • Robert J. Letcher
    • 5
  • Kim Gustavson
    • 1
  • Jean-Pierre Desforges
    • 1
  • Jacob Nabe-Nielsen
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of BioscienceAarhus UniversityRoskildeDenmark
  2. 2.Arctic Research CentreAarhus UniversityAarhus CDenmark
  3. 3.Department of Ecological ModellingHelmholtz Center for Environmental Research - UFZLeipzigGermany
  4. 4.Institute for Biochemistry and BiologyUniversity of PotsdamPotsdamGermany
  5. 5.Ecotoxicology and Wildlife Division, Science and Technology Branch, Environment Canada, National Wildlife Research CentreCarleton UniversityOttawaCanada
  6. 6.Department of Environmental ScienceAarhus UniversityRoskildeDenmark

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