Connectivity among subpopulations of Louisiana black bears as estimated by a step selection function

Journal of Wildlife Management
Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries; University of Tennessee; University of Maryland; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
By: , and 



Habitat fragmentation is a fundamental cause of population decline and increased risk of extinction for many wildlife species; animals with large home ranges and small population sizes are particularly sensitive. The Louisiana black bear (Ursus americanus luteolus) exists only in small, isolated subpopulations as a result of land clearing for agriculture, but the relative potential for inter-subpopulation movement by Louisiana black bears has not been quantified, nor have characteristics of effective travel routes between habitat fragments been identified. We placed and monitored global positioning system (GPS) radio collars on 8 female and 23 male bears located in 4 subpopulations in Louisiana, which included a reintroduced subpopulation located between 2 of the remnant subpopulations. We compared characteristics of sequential radiolocations of bears (i.e., steps) with steps that were possible but not chosen by the bears to develop step selection function models based on conditional logistic regression. The probability of a step being selected by a bear increased as the distance to natural land cover and agriculture at the end of the step decreased and as distance from roads at the end of a step increased. To characterize connectivity among subpopulations, we used the step selection models to create 4,000 hypothetical correlated random walks for each subpopulation representing potential dispersal events to estimate the proportion that intersected adjacent subpopulations (hereafter referred to as successful dispersals). Based on the models, movement paths for males intersected all adjacent subpopulations but paths for females intersected only the most proximate subpopulations. Cross-validation and genetic and independent observation data supported our findings. Our models also revealed that successful dispersals were facilitated by a reintroduced population located between 2 distant subpopulations. Successful dispersals for males were dependent on natural land cover in private ownership. The addition of hypothetical 1,000-m- or 3,000-m-wide corridors between the 4 study areas had minimal effects on connectivity among subpopulations. For females, our model suggested that habitat between subpopulations would probably have to be permanently occupied for demographic rescue to occur. Thus, the establishment of stepping-stone populations, such as the reintroduced population that we studied, may be a more effective conservation measure than long corridors without a population presence in between. 

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Connectivity among subpopulations of Louisiana black bears as estimated by a step selection function
Series title Journal of Wildlife Management
DOI 10.1002/jwmg.955
Edition 1347
Volume 79
Issue 8
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher Wildlife Society
Contributing office(s) Leetown Science Center
Description 14 p.
First page 1360
Country United States
State Louisiana
Other Geospatial Tensas River Basin, Three Rivers Complex, Upper Atchafalaya River Basin, Lower Atchafalaya River Basin
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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