RELIABILITY, ACCURACY, AND TRACKING TECHNIQUES OF INUIT HUNTERS IN ESTIMATING POLAR BEAR CHARACTERISTICS FROM TRACKS
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Inuit estimates of polar bear characteristics from tracks could complement ongoing capture-mark-recapture methods to frequently monitor polar bear populations in response to climate-induced habitat changes. Before the inclusion of these Inuit track estimates, they need to be evaluated for reliability and accuracy. Building on previous work, which showed increased reliability among active Inuit hunters, this thesis research reports i) reliability in estimates of sex, age, size, and age of track of a larger number of tracks by a larger number of Inuit hunters; ii) preliminary accuracy assessments of sex and size estimates; iii) semi-structured interviews with Inuit hunters regarding their polar bear tracking experience and techniques; and iv) potential relations between Inuit hunting experience and reliability and accuracy in diagnosing tracks. The Inuit hunters were reliable and consistent as a group in making estimates of sex (α=0.74 and mean corrected item-total correlation=0.45), age (α=0.81 and mean corrected item-total correlation=0.63), and size (α=0.91 and mean corrected item-total correlation=0.73), as well as age of track estimates with the exclusion of a single participant (α=0.85 and mean corrected item-total correlation=0.63). Preliminary accuracy assessments suggest Inuit hunters are generally accurate in their estimates of sex (mean 65.28% agreement with genetic sex estimates) and potentially size from tracks, warranting further efforts to determine accuracy in these estimates as well as age and age of track. Semi-structured, open-ended interviews with each hunter revealed they use similar tracking techniques, which may explain their high agreement in making estimates. In addition, Inuit tracking experience and the use of particular tracking methods may correlate with individual reliability and accuracy in track diagnoses. These results suggest the information that Inuit hunters provide may inform any tracking-based polar bear survey.