An animal's body condition provides insight into its health, foraging success, and overall fitness. Measures of body composition including proportional fat content are useful indicators of condition. Isotopic dilution is a reliable non-destructive method for estimating the body composition of live mammals, but can require prolonged handling times. Alternatively, bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) has promise as a quick method for estimating the body composition of live mammals, but measurements can potentially be affected by field conditions. Body condition indices (BCI) and energy density models can also be used to assess body condition based on morphological measurements, but may not reliably reflect an animal's energy stores. Here we evaluate BIA, BCI, and an energy density model in measuring the energy stores of female polar bears (Ursus maritimus). We examine the relationship between total body fat (TBF) derived from isotopic dilution to these alternative methods for 9 female polar bears from 14 captures on the sea ice of the southern Beaufort Sea in April 2014–2016. An energy density model, BCI, and BIA-derived measures of TBF were poor predictors of TBF derived from isotopic dilution. We suggest energy density, BCI, and BIA may not be predictive of an animal's body fat at fine scales (e.g., among individuals within the same sex, reproductive status, and season). In particular, BIA should provide similar measures of body composition as isotopic dilution, but it failed to reliably measure TBF of individual bears. These limitations in the precision of body condition measures should be considered when planning future studies.
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Vol. 28 • No. 2