Molec­u­lar sci­ence an­swer­ing big ques­tions

Ge­netic re­search im­por­tant in po­lar bear con­ser­va­tion ef­forts

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - A LOOK AT RECENTLY SOLD HOMES IN AND AROUND WINNIP - By Martin Zeilig

AKEY com­po­nent of the Jour­ney to Churchill ex­hibit at the Assini­boine Park Zoo is the “state-of-theart” Leatherdale In­ter­na­tional Po­lar Bear Con­ser­va­tion Cen­tre.

Molec­u­lar ecol­o­gist Stephen Petersen, the head of con­ser­va­tion and re­search for Assini­boine Park Zoo, runs field- and zoo-based pro­grams from the cen­tre’s labs and of­fices. He is as­sisted by nu­mer­ous other re­searchers.

Re­cent re­search projects have fo­cused on the ecol­ogy and ge­net­ics of Arc­tic mam­mals, such as po­lar bears and seals, as well as en­gag­ing ci­ti­zen sci­en­tists to help mon­i­tor Arc­tic species. Petersen spoke to the

ear­lier this win­ter about his work and the role of the cen­tre in wildlife con­ser­va­tion, education and other re­lated is­sues. man­age or con­serve an­i­mals in the wild. One ben­e­fit to us­ing DNA is that we don’t need to touch the an­i­mals be­cause we can pick up hair or scat. An ex­am­ple of this is a new pro­ject that is un­der­way to un­der­stand if the same fe­male po­lar bears come back to the same dens when­ever they have a cub.

We know they come back to the same den­ning area, but we want to know the specifics, and we can do that by vis­it­ing dens, pick­ing up sam­ples and then try­ing to match the DNA pro­files of sam­ples from dif­fer­ent years. If there are matches in the DNA at the same den over mul­ti­ple years, it would sug­gest fe­male po­lar bears use the very same den year af­ter year. If the same den is used time and time again, then we have to won­der what hap­pens if that habi­tat changes.

In Man­i­toba, we are lucky be­cause a lot of the po­lar bear den­ning ar­eas are al­ready pro­tected in var­i­ous ways, but we may learn things that would help other ju­ris­dic­tions to pro­tect their po­lar bear den­ning habi­tats.


Stephen Petersen is head of con­ser­va­tion and re­search at the zoo.

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