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Webinar – Alberta’s Grizzlies: Latest Research
2021-05-27 @ 12:00 – 13:00 MDT
Our first installment in our Hot Topic Webinar Series offers you a chance to hear about the science informing grizzly bear management in Alberta today. You may be aware of recent media coverage about Alberta’s grizzly bear population estimates and the implications for the provincial grizzly bear recovery plan. Our speakers for Alberta Grizzlies: Latest Research will share their most recent work about bear behaviour, population estimates, and carrying capacity estimates. Get up to date and learn more about the science behind grizzly bear behaviour and recovery in Alberta!
Our first speaker, Andrea Morehouse, started us off with a great talk connecting bear olfactory communication with reproductive success. Olfactory communication is likely a good tool for bears since they are wide-ranging, solitary, and have overlapping home ranges. Both male and female bears will rub on a variety of objects. Andrea examined whether this behaviour was tied to reproductive success; we would expect if it was that bears who rubbed would have higher reproductive success. Andrea’s team gathered hair for DNA analysis and conducted a parentage analysis to define the number of offspring for bears who rubbed on objects. Andrea found a consistent relationship between increased rubbing behaviour and increased number of offspring, therefore showing that rubbing is good for reproductive success. There are still some questions as to what exactly bears are communicating when they rub – is it dominance? Or perhaps mate signaling? There is an alternative hypothesis that perhaps it relates to female choice and that females use olfactory cues to choose their offspring paternity. More food for thought!
Gordon Stenhouse, our second speaker, shared the latest research from Foothills Research Institute that used DNA sampling to estimate grizzly bear population for Alberta and in particular Bear Management Areas (BMA) 4 and 7. Using a standard grid sampling design, Gordon’s team collected DNA from hair snags to estimate total population of the BMAs. In BMA 7, out of 750 hair samples, 100 were grizzly bears from 39 unique individuals. A high confidence interval meant there was a low redetection rate, which suggests these results should be interpreted with caution. The lower bound of the confidence interval suggests there are approximately 62 bears in this BMA. For BMA 4, the analysis estimated 88 bears with a confidence interval of 59-130. This is an increase from the previous estimate conducted in 2005 that found 42 bears. The results also showed a change in distribution as more bears were found farther east in 2018, even though the density was higher in the core habitat to the west. The increase in bear population in BMA 4 is higher than what is commonly seen. The value of this provincial data set is that it enables us to examine the long-term productivity of bears, their long-term home range and movement patterns, and increase our understanding of how bears use the landscape.
Our last speaker, Scott Nielsen, presented work modeling the ecological carrying capacity of two BMAs. This work can help inform what kind of population the landscape can sustain and is essential to understand when we want to define recovery targets. Current densities of grizzly bears in Alberta are lower than many other places, including British Columbia. Although the eastern slopes and foothills in Alberta have lower habitat productivity, there are other landscape and human use features that can influence grizzly bear population density. Through a nutritional analysis, Scott’s team identified an important relationship in macro-nutritional ecology that helped model how bears maximize their body condition by choosing what specific foods to eat and when. There is evidence of co-limitation in that both fruit and meat forage material explain the probability of more bears. Using these nutritional models, they examined the landscape and estimated Kcal/bear to get estimates of carrying capacity per watershed. The highest carrying capacity was in the Grande Cache area and estimates suggest the landscape can sustain nearly double the current population. Using this analysis, Scott and his team identified priority watersheds for conservation efforts based on carrying capacity potential and existing road density.
The Q&A section of this webinar was in depth and very interesting as the speakers explored how these results can be used to better understand grizzly bear habitat use and how recovery can be defined and accomplished across Alberta.
This webinar was attended by 68 people and all of them thought the webinar was useful. This was the first time we live streamed our webinar on Facebook, which was a success. We will be doing that will all of our webinars moving forward.
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A video of the webinar is posted in our members area.
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Read the speakers’ latest papers:
Andrea Morehouse’s new paper: The smell of success: Reproductive success related to rub behavior in brown bears
Scott Nielsen will be presenting: Landscape estimates of carrying capacity for grizzly bears using nutritional energy supply for management and conservation planning
Gordon Stenhouse will be sharing the latest grizzly bear population estimates.
Andrea Morehouse is an independent scientist who works on a variety of conservation and management issues related to large carnivores in multi-use landscapes. She moved to Alberta in 2007 and completed both an M.Sc. and Ph.D. in ecology at the University of Alberta. Through her research, she strives to effectively engage scientists, managers, and community members to develop and implement scientifically sound and socially workable wildlife conservation and management strategies. She is a 2017 Wilburforce Fellow in Conservation Science; serves on the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s Conservation Advocacy Committee, Waterton Biosphere Reserve’s Board of Directors, and the Bear Specialist Group’s North American Bear Expert Team; is a past president of the Alberta Chapter of The Wildlife Society; and is active in other professional societies. She lives in the Pincher Creek area with her husband, two boys, and dog.
Gordon is a research scientist and the leader of the Foothills Research Institute Grizzly Bear Research Program. This research program began in 1998 and now has over 250 published scientific papers from the research team working on this program over the past 23 years.
Gordon is on secondment from the Alberta provincial government and is an adjunct professor at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan. He is also the past chairman of the Alberta Grizzly Bear Recovery Team and is an executive council member with the International Association for Bear Research and Management.
Gordon has studied both polar and grizzly bears for 37 years ….now more than half of his life.
Scott Nielsen is a Professor of Conservation Biology in the Department of Renewable Resources at the University of Alberta. He has a BSc in biology and MSc in natural resources from the University of Wisconsin and a PhD in ecology from the University of Alberta. His lab studies biodiversity conservation and endangered species management issues by integrating field and geospatial data with landscape modeling approaches to assess and predict biotic responses to rapid environmental change and to guide mitigation and management actions.