Spatiotemporal patterns of resource use and density of American black bears on Yellowstone's northern range

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


The availability of resources, such as food and cover, can directly influence the movement and distribution of wildlife populations. The abundance and seasonal timing of many resources have changed in Yellowstone National Park (YNP), which has influenced populations of American black bears (Ursus americanus), an opportunistic omnivore. Previous studies have focused on how changes in resources have influenced black bears in the central and southern regions of YNP, however little work has focused on black bears in the northern part of the park. In 2017-2018, we used GPS collars and non-invasive genetic sampling to understand resource selection and variation in densities of black bears on the Northern Range. We sought to 1) assess whether black bears were following seasonal pulses of resources (resource waves) in the spring, such as the green wave and elk (Cervus canadensis) calving wave and 2) evaluate how densities of black bears varied based on landscape features, generating a baseline abundance estimate to help track changes in the population over time. We found evidence that black bears followed the green wave, prioritizing forage quality over quantity when selecting patches of green vegetation in early spring. However, black bears were less likely to select areas near historical elk calving grounds, suggesting that consumption of neonates is more opportunistic. Densities of black bears varied among vegetation communities, with the highest densities in forested communities dominated by Douglas fir. Our study provides the first baseline density estimates for black bears on the Northern Range, with an average density of 12.8 bears/100km 2 (95% CI = 9.4 - 17.5), which is higher than other regions in YNP. Availability of high-quality resources may allow for higher densities of black bears, with potential ramifications for other wildlife populations on the Northern Range. Information about resource selection and variation in estimated densities could be used to guide management decisions to continue to reduce human-bear conflicts and provide safe wildlife viewing experiences for the growing number of visitors to YNP.




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