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Kristin Laidre

Principal Oceanographer

Assistant Professor, Fisheries





Department Affiliation

Polar Science Center


B.S. Zoology, University of Washington - Seattle, 1999

Ph.D. Aquatic & Fishery Sciences, University of Washington - Seattle, 2003

Kristin Laidre's Website



2000-present and while at APL-UW

Variation in non-metrical skull traits of polar bears (Ursus maritimus) and relationships across East Greenland and adjacent subpopulations (1830–2013)

Wiig, Ø., P. Henrichsen, T. Sjøvold, E.W. Born, K.L. Laidre, R. Dietz, C. Sonne, and J. Aars, "Variation in non-metrical skull traits of polar bears (Ursus maritimus) and relationships across East Greenland and adjacent subpopulations (1830–2013)," Polar Biol., 42, 461-474, doi:10.1007/s00300-018-2435-x, 2019.

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1 Mar 2019

Knowledge of subpopulation identity including substructure is a prerequisite for sound management of polar bears (Ursus maritimus). It is not known whether the present catch of polar bears in the East Greenland subpopulation (EG) is sustainable. We used the Mean Measure of Divergence (MMD) to examine geographical variation in non-metrical traits from 1414 polar bear (Ursus maritimus) skulls collected in East Greenland (EG), Svalbard (SVA), Franz Josef Land (FJL), Davis Strait (DS), Baffin Bay (BB), and Kane Basin (KB), between 1830 and 2013. We focused on East Greenland with the goal of examining substructuring in the subpopulation. We did not find significant differences among samples across four areas of the EG subpopulation (i.e., offshore Fram Strait, NE, SE, and SW Greenland) using data from 1830 to 1983. Our analyses did not lend support to substructuring. However, we draw our conclusions with caution because skulls were sampled over a long time period and had low power due to small sample sizes. Also, comparisons were limited to pre-1980s skulls. The decrease in sea ice in EG since the 1990s due to climate change may have led to substructuring not detected with MMD. This study contributes to the current efforts by Greenland authorities to quantify connectivity of polar bears between southeast and northeast Greenland which is important information for the evaluation of the sustainability of the catch of bears from the EG subpopulation.

Survey-based assessment of the frequency and potential impacts of recreation on polar bears

Rode, K.D., and 12 others including K.L. Laidre, "Survey-based assessment of the frequency and potential impacts of recreation on polar bears," Biol. Conserv., 227, 121-132, doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2018.09.008, 2018.

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1 Nov 2018

Conservation plans for polar bears (Ursus maritimus) typically cannot prescribe management actions to address their primary threat: sea ice loss associated with climate warming. However, there may be other stressors that compound the negative effects of sea ice loss which can be mitigated. For example, Arctic tourism has increased concurrent with polar bears increasingly using terrestrial habitats, which creates the potential for increased human-bear interactions. Little is known about the types, frequency, or potential impacts of recreation. We conducted a Delphi survey among experts who live and work in polar bear habitats, followed by an internet-based survey to which 47 managers, tour operators, community members, and scientists contributed. Participants identified viewing-based recreation as increasing and affecting the largest proportion of bears within subpopulations that come ashore during the ice-free season. Survey respondents suggested that negative effects of viewing, including displacement and habituation, could be reduced by restricting human use areas and distances between bears and people. Killing of bears in defense was associated more with camping or hunting for other species than other recreations, and may be mitigated with deterrents. Snowmobiling was the most common recreation across the polar bears' range, and reportedly caused some den abandonment and displacement. However, respondents estimated that <10% of polar bears are exposed to most types of recreation and <50% surmised any negative impacts. Nevertheless, mitigating some of the negative impacts identified in this study may become increasingly important as polar bears cope with sea ice loss.

Historical and potential future importance of large whales as food for polar bears

Laidre, K.L., I. Stirling, J.A. Estes, A. Kochnev, and J. Roberts, "Historical and potential future importance of large whales as food for polar bears," Front. Ecol. Environ., 16, 515-524, doi:10.1002/fee.1963, 2018.

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9 Oct 2018

Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) are expected to be adversely impacted by a warming Arctic due to melting of the sea‐ice platform from which they hunt ice‐breeding seals. We evaluated the hypothesis that scavenging on stranded large whale carcasses may have facilitated polar bear survival through past interglacial periods during which sea‐ice was limited by analyzing: (1) present‐day scavenging by polar bears on large whale carcasses; (2) energy values of large whale species; and (3) the ability of polar bears, like the brown bears (Ursus arctos) from which they evolved, to quickly store large amounts of lipids and to fast for extended periods. We concluded that scavenging on large whale carcasses likely facilitated survival of polar bears in past interglacial periods when access to seals was reduced. In a future, ice‐impoverished Arctic, whale carcasses are less likely to provide nutritional refuge for polar bears because overharvesting by humans has greatly reduced large whale populations, carcass availability is geographically limited, and climate‐induced sea‐ice loss is projected to occur at a more rapid pace than polar bears have experienced at any previous time in their evolutionary history.

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In The News

Polar science, climate change and, yes dance mix this weekend at Pacific Science Center

UW News, Hannah Hickey

Each year, University of Washington polar scientists share their work with the public during a three-day event at the Pacific Science Center. This year, the event is expanding to include broader discussions of climate change, alternative energy and cross-disciplinary efforts that combine science with other disciplines.

28 Feb 2019

As Arctic ship traffic increases, narwhals and other unique animals are at risk

The Conversation, Donna Hauser, Harry Stern, and Kristin Laidre

In a recent study, the authors assessed the vulnerability of 80 populations of Arctic marine mammals during the "open-water" period of September, when sea ice is at its minimum extent. They report that more than half (53 percent) of these populations — including walruses and several types of whales — would be exposed to vessels in Arctic sea routes. This could lead to collisions, noise disturbance, or changes in the animals' behavior.

9 Nov 2018

Polar bears may soon feast on whale carcasses. Global warming is to blame

Smithsonian, Katherine J. Wu

This scavenging strategy saved sleuths of bears in the past, but it’s not sustainable as temperatures climb at unprecedented rates.

10 Oct 2018

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