Evaluating the Use of Hair as a Non-invasive Indicator of Trace Mineral Status in Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou)

Naima Jutha
Claire Jardine
Helen Schwantje
Jesper Mosbacher
David Kinniburgh
Susan Kutz
Resource Date:

Trace mineral imbalances can have significant effects on animal health, reproductive success, and survival. Monitoring their status in wildlife populations is, therefore, important for management and conservation. Typically, livers and kidneys are sampled to measure mineral status, but biopsies and lethal-sampling are not always possible, particularly for Species at Risk. We aimed to: 1) determine baseline mineral levels in Northern Mountain caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou; Gmelin, 1788) in northwestern British Columbia, Canada, and 2) determine if hair can be used as an effective indicator of caribou mineral status by evaluating associations between hair and organ mineral concentrations. Hair, liver, and kidney samples from adult male caribou (nHair = 31; nLiver, nKidney = 43) were collected by guide-outfitters in 2016–2018 hunting seasons. Trace minerals and heavy metals were quantified using inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometry, and organ and hair concentrations of same individuals were compared. Some organ mineral concentrations differed from other caribou populations, though no clinical deficiency or toxicity symptoms were reported in our population. Significant correlations were found between liver and hair selenium (rho = 0.66, p<0.05), kidney and hair cobalt (rho = 0.51, p<0.05), and liver and hair molybdenum (rho = 0.37, p<0.10). These findings suggest that hair trace mineral assessment may be used as a non-invasive and easily-accessible way to monitor caribou selenium, cobalt, and molybdenum status, and may be a valuable tool to help assess overall caribou health.