National Science Foundation/USGS Internship Opportunities

Evaluating best practices for genetic sampling of bear populations

Work with quantitative spatial wildlife ecologists to identify best practices for sampling rare and threatened carnivores using cutting edge statistical techniques. The results will be useful for sampling carnivore populations across the world. You will be stationed in beautiful northwest Montana in Glacier National Park.

Link to PDF Version.

Project Hypothesis or Objectives:

Obtaining precise estimates of population size for many rare carnivores, including black and grizzly bears is crucial for management decisions ranging from listing/de-listing to optimal investment of conservation resources to game management.   Using a combination of genetic sampling and spatial capture recapture analyses is quickly becoming the most common approach, in part because multiple processes can be addressed simultaneously. However, many questions still exist about the best way to implement sampling to meet these objectives.   For instance, are there key topographic features, vegetation communities, scent lures, or spatial arrangements of sample locations that can increase detection probabilities? If so, this could decrease the minimum effort needed to estimate population size precisely.
The student will use existing spatial capture recapture datasets obtained through sampling and genotyping hairs of grizzly and black bears.  This will be combined with other existing remote sensing and field datasets to assess ways to increase detection rates at rub trees and hair snags.  This project will directly inform future research designs for bears nationally and internationally.

Duration: Up to 12 months

Internship Location: West Glacier, MT

Field(s) of Study: Life Science, Computing

Applicable NSF Division: MCB Molecular & Cellular Biosciences, DEB Environmental Biology, HPC High Performance Computing, CISE Computer and Information Science and Engineering

Intern Type Preference: NSF Graduate Research Fellow (GRF) via the Graduate Research Intern Program (GRIP)

Keywords: wildlife, bears, carnivores, populations, statistics, occupancy, spatially explicit capture recapture, Montana, Glacier National Park, grizzlies, genetics

Expected Outcome:

This project will provide information on best practices for maximizing animal detections and therefore minimizing sampling effort, which we project could result in halving the cost of field work.  USGS researchers working on rare carnivores will benefit from this information as it could decrease the costs associated with our projects and other land management agencies will also benefit through either increased precision or decreased costs.   The intern will benefit from learning recent advances in spatial population models, exposure to a range of USGS science, and participating in analyses of large datasets.

Special skills/training Required:

Intern should have intermediate skills in the statistical environment R and GIS or be extremely proficient in statistics and programming.  We will teach the student more advanced skills in R, particularly those directly related to spatial capture recapture analyses. A background in wildlife ecology would also be beneficial.  


The intern will spend time at the pulse of a USGS field station located on the doorstep of Glacier National Park.  They will work with spatial ecologists to develop a full analysis plan, increase their spatial analysis skills, and learn to use a high performance computer.   They will work with one or more of several multi-year bear datasets with saturated sampling to answer these questions and develop a draft manuscript for publication.


Tabitha Graves

Research Ecologist
Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center
Phone: 406-589-6645