Date of this Version
Baruch-Mordo, S., K.R. Wilson, D.L. Lewis, J. Broderick, J.S. Mao, S.W. Breck. 2014. Stochasticity in natural forage production affects use of urban areas by black bears: implications to management of human-bear conflicts. PLoS ONE 9(1): e85122. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0085122.
The rapid expansion of global urban development is increasing opportunities for wildlife to forage and become dependent on anthropogenic resources. Wildlife using urban areas are often perceived dichotomously as urban or not, with some individuals removed in the belief that dependency on anthropogenic resources is irreversible and can lead to increased human-wildlife conflict. For American black bears (Ursus americanus), little is known about the degree of bear urbanization and its ecological mechanisms to guide the management of human-bear conflicts. Using 6 years of GPS location and activity data from bears in Aspen, Colorado, USA, we evaluated the degree of bear urbanization and the factors that best explained its variations. We estimated space use, activity patterns, survival, and reproduction and modeled their relationship with ecological covariates related to bear characteristics and natural food availability. Space use and activity patterns were dependent on natural food availability (good or poor food years), where bears used higher human density areas and became more nocturnal in poor food years. Patterns were reversible, i.e., individuals using urban areas in poor food years used wildland areas in subsequent good food years. While reproductive output was similar across years, survival was lower in poor food years when bears used urban areas to a greater extent. Our findings suggest that bear use of urban areas is reversible and fluctuates with the availability of natural food resources, and that removal of urban individuals in times of food failures has the potential to negatively affect bear populations. Given that under current predictions urbanization is expected to increase by 11% across American black bear range, and that natural food failure years are expected to increase in frequency with global climate change, alternative methods of reducing urban human-bear conflict are required if the goal is to prevent urban areas from becoming population sinks.