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Jen Bourque

Advisor: Melissa McKinney


I am interested in how ecosystems interact and are impacted by climate change, development, and other anthropogenic forces. I am particularly interested in the applied conservation of large mammals. My undergraduate research focused on analyzing fatty acid profiles of sub-Arctic invading killer whales to assess diet, which has led to my increased curiosity in Arctic and sub-Arctic ecosystems.


My master's project focuses on habitat and feeding habitat changes in southern Beaufort Sea polar bears, as well as characterizing their exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. In collaboration with the USGS, samples have been collected during their annual field season and will be analyzed to assess decadal-scale changes in feeding habits and the role of sea ice reductions on feeding habitat shifts. Such alterations in habitat use and diet have the potential to impact exposure to, and thus health risks posed by, environmental contaminants. 


Due to high-levels of oil extraction in this region, the second chapter of my research will assess current polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon level in southern Beaufort Sea polar bears. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon contamination can lead to toxic effects for decades following exposure, including carcinogenicity, and impacts on reproduction and immune system function. This research will create a baseline of current exposure levels in order to allow for comparison after an oil spill to assess the impact. This baseline will allow for monitoring of short and long term effects of oil spills on Arctic food webs.








Wildlife and Fisheries Conservation Center
Department of Natural Resources and the Environment
University of Connecticut
1376 Storrs Road, Unit 4087