Skip to main content

Data from: Heritability of body size in the polar bears of Western Hudson Bay

Cite this dataset

Malenfant, René M. et al. (2022). Data from: Heritability of body size in the polar bears of Western Hudson Bay [Dataset]. Dryad.


Among polar bears (Ursus maritimus), fitness is dependent on body size through males' abilities to win mates, females' abilities to provide for their young, and all bears' abilities to survive increasingly longer fasting periods caused by climate change. In the Western Hudson Bay subpopulation (near Churchill, Manitoba, Canada), polar bears have declined in body size and condition, but nothing is known about the genetic underpinnings of body size variation, which may be subject to natural selection. Here, we combine a 4449-individual pedigree and an array of 5433 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) to provide the first quantitative genetics study of polar bears. We used animal models to estimate heritability (h2) among polar bears handled between 1966 and 2011, obtaining h2 estimates of 0.34-0.48 for strictly skeletal traits and 0.18 for axillary girth (which is also dependent on fatness). We genotyped 859 individuals with the SNP array to test for marker-trait association and combined p-values over genetic pathways using gene-set analysis. Variation in all traits appeared to be polygenic, but we detected one region of moderately large effect size in body length near a putative noncoding RNA in an unannotated region of the genome. Gene-set analysis suggested that variation in body length was associated with genes in the regulatory cascade of cyclin expression, which has previously been associated with body size in mice. A greater understanding of the genetic architecture of body size variation will be valuable in understanding the potential for adaptation in polar bear populations challenged by climate change.

Usage notes


Hudson Bay