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Individual and population fitness consequences associated with large carnivore use of residential development

May 1, 2020

Large carnivores are negotiating increasingly developed landscapes, but little is known about how such behavioral plasticity influences their demographic rates and population trends. Some investigators have suggested that the ability of carnivores to behaviorally adapt to human development will enable their persistence, and yet, others have suggested that such landscapes are likely to serve as population sinks or ecological traps. To understand how plasticity in black bear (Ursus americanus) use of residential development influences their population dynamics, we conducted a 6 year study near Durango, Colorado, USA. Using space-use data on individual bears, we examined the influence of use of residential development on annual measures of bear body fat, cub productivity, cub survival and adult female survival, after accounting for variation in natural food availability and individual attributes (e.g., age). We then used our field-based vital rate estimates to parameterize a matrix model that simulated asymptotic population growth for bears using residential development to different degrees. We found that bear use of residential development was highly variable within and across years, with bears increasing their foraging within development when natural foods were scarce. Increased bear use of development was associated with increased body fat and cub productivity, but reduced cub and adult survival. When these effects were simultaneously incorporated into a matrix model we found that the population was projected to decline as bear use of development increased, given that the costs of reduced survival outweighed the benefits of enhanced productivity. Our results provide a mechanistic understanding of how black bear use of residential development exerts opposing effects on different bear fitness traits and a negative effect on population growth, with the magnitude of those effects mediated by variation in environmental conditions. They also highlight the importance of monitoring bear population dynamics, particularly as shifts in bear behavior are likely to drive increases in human-bear conflicts and the perception of growing bear populations. Finally, our work emphasizes the need to consider the demographic viability of large carnivore populations when promoting the coexistence of people and carnivores on shared landscapes.

Publication Year 2020
Title Individual and population fitness consequences associated with large carnivore use of residential development
DOI 10.1002/ecs2.3098
Authors Heather E. Johnson, David Bruce Lewis, Stewart Breck
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecosphere
Index ID 70210149
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center Biology WTEB