Population viability and connectivity of the Louisiana black bear (Ursus americanus luteolus)

Open-File Report 2014-1228
Prepared in cooperation with the University of Tennessee, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
By:  and 



In 1992, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) granted Ursus americanus luteolus (Louisiana black bear) threatened status under the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973, listing loss and fragmentation of habitat as the primary threats. A study was developed by the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the University of Tennessee, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and the USFWS to estimate demographic rates and genetic structure of Louisiana black bear populations; evaluate relations between environmental and anthropogenic factors and demographic, genetic, and movement characteristics of Louisiana black bear populations; and develop data-driven stochastic population projection models to assess long-term persistence of individual subpopulations and the overall black bear population in Louisiana.


Data were collected with non-invasive DNA sampling, live capture, winter den visits, and radio monitoring from 2002 to 2012 in the four areas supporting breeding subpopulations in Louisiana: Tensas River Basin (TRB), Upper Atchafalaya River Basin (UARB), Lower Atchafalaya River Basin (LARB), and Three Rivers Complex (TRC). Bears were live trapped and radio collared in the TRB and TRC to estimate survival and reproductive rates, deterministic matrix models were used to estimate asymptotic growth rates, and stochastic population models were used to estimate long-term viability. DNA extracted from hair collected at baited, barbed-wire enclosures in the TRB, UARB, and LARB and capture-mark-recapture (CMR) analysis based on Bayesian hierarchical modeling methods were used to estimate apparent survival (φ), per capita recruitment (γ), abundance (N), realized growth rate (λ), and long-term viability.


From 2002 to 2012, we radio monitored 86 adult females greater than (>) 2 years old within the TRB, and 43 adult females were monitored in the TRC. The mean annual survival rate estimate ranged from 0.97 to 0.99 for the TRB and from 0.93 to 0.97 for the TRC. Fecundity and yearling recruitment in the TRB were 0.47 and 0.15, respectively, whereas estimates for the TRC were 0.37 and 0.18. Depending on estimated carrying capacity, the strength of the density dependence, level of uncertainty, and the treatment of unresolved signals, persistence probabilities for the TRC subpopulation ranged from 0.295 to 0.999.


Estimates of N for females in the TRB ranged from 140 to 163 during 2006–12 when detection heterogeneity was assumed to follow a logistic-normal distribution (Model 1) and from 133 to 158 when a 2-point finite mixture distribution was assumed (Model 2). Annual estimates of γ ranged from 0.00 to 0.16 and from 0 to 0.22, depending on the model, and estimates of φ ranged from 0.87 to 0.93 during that period. In the UARB, estimates of N for females ranged from 25 to 44 during the study period, regardless of heterogeneity model. Estimated γ ranged from 0.00 to 0.41, and φ ranged from 0.88 to 0.90 during that period. Estimated N for females in the LARB was from 78 to 97 from 2010 to 2012 based on Model 1 and from 68 to 84 based on Model 2. Estimates of γ were 0.00 for 2010–11 regardless of heterogeneity model and ranged from 0.24 to 0.31 for 2011–12, depending on the model assumptions. We estimated φ as 0.81 for 2010–11, and from 0.84 to 0.85 for 2011–12, depending on model assumptions. We estimated Φ as 0.81 for 2010–11, ranging and from 0.84 to 0.85 for 2011–12, depending on model assumptions.


On the basis of vital rate estimates from Model 1 of the CMR analysis, probability of persistence over 100 years for the TRB population was >0.999, 0.975, and 0.958 for process-only, 50-percent (%) credible interval (CI), and 95% CI projections, respectively. Similarly, the probability of persistence based on  Model 2 was >0.999, 0.982, and 0.958. For the UARB, probabilities of persistence based on Model 1 were >0.999, 0.971, and 0.958 for process-only, 50% CI, and 95% CI projections, respectively, and 0.993, 0.929, and 0.849 for Model 2. Using the telemetry and reproductive data from the TRC, probabilities of persistence were greater than or equal to 0.95 only for projections based on the most optimistic set of assumptions. Assuming that the dynamics of the TRB, TRC, and UARB populations were independent and using the most pessimistic population-specific persistence probabilities (that is, 0.958, 0.295, and 0.849, respectively), the overall probability of persistence for bears in that population system was 0.996.


Genetic methods were used to estimate interchange and structure between subpopulations in Louisiana and in Minnesota (MINN); Mississippi (MISS); and the White River Basin (WRB), Arkansas. Results from the all-population and the WRB–TRB clustering analyses indicate at least five genetically distinct populations. The genetic clustering and migrant analyses combined with capture data provided direct evidence that interchange has occurred from the WRB to the TRB and MISS, from the TRB to MISS, from the UARB to the TRC, and from the TRC to the TRB. Indirect evidence that interchange occurred from the UARB to the TRC and from the UARB to the TRB by way of the TRC was documented. No evidence was found of interchange from any of the subpopulations to the WRB, UARB, or LARB.


From April 2010 to April 2012, global positioning system (GPS) radio collars were placed on 8 female and 23 male bears ranging from 1 to 11 years of age to develop a step-selection function model to predict routes and rates of interchange. For both males and females, the probability of a step being selected 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. Of 4,000 correlated random walks, the least potential interchange was between TRB and TRC and between UARB and LARB, but the relative potential for natural interchange between UARB and TRC was high. The step-selection model predicted that dispersals between the LARB and UARB populations were infrequent but possible for males and nearly nonexistent for females. No evidence of natural female dispersal between subpopulations has been documented thus far, which is also consistent with model predictions.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Population viability and connectivity of the Louisiana black bear (Ursus americanus luteolus)
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2014-1228
DOI 10.3133/ofr20141228
Year Published 2014
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) New Jersey Water Science Center
Description viii, 104 p.
Country United States
State Louisiana
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
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