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Detecting grizzly bear use of ungulate carcasses using global positioning system telemetry and activity data

March 17, 2016

Global positioning system (GPS) wildlife collars have revolutionized wildlife research. Studies of predation by free-ranging carnivores have particularly benefited from the application of location clustering algorithms to determine when and where predation events occur. These studies have changed our understanding of large carnivore behavior, but the gains have concentrated on obligate carnivores. Facultative carnivores, such as grizzly/brown bears (Ursus arctos), exhibit a variety of behaviors that can lead to the formation of GPS clusters. We combined clustering techniques with field site investigations of grizzly bear GPS locations (n = 732 site investigations; 2004–2011) to produce 174 GPS clusters where documented behavior was partitioned into five classes (large-biomass carcass, small-biomass carcass, old carcass, non-carcass activity, and resting). We used multinomial logistic regression to predict the probability of clusters belonging to each class. Two cross-validation methods—leaving out individual clusters, or leaving out individual bears—showed that correct prediction of bear visitation to large-biomass carcasses was 78–88%, whereas the false-positive rate was 18–24%. As a case study, we applied our predictive model to a GPS data set of 266 bear-years in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (2002–2011) and examined trends in carcass visitation during fall hyperphagia (September–October). We identified 1997 spatial GPS clusters, of which 347 were predicted to be large-biomass carcasses. We used the clustered data to develop a carcass visitation index, which varied annually, but more than doubled during the study period. Our study demonstrates the effectiveness and utility of identifying GPS clusters associated with carcass visitation by a facultative carnivore.