Date of Award

8-2010

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science

Major

Wildlife and Fisheries Science

Major Professor

Frank T. van Manen

Committee Members

Benjamin Fitzpatrick, Arnold M. Saxton, Joseph D. Clark

Abstract

Because of increasing frequency of bear sightings, vehicle collisions, and nuisance incidents in coastal South Carolina, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources is developing a comprehensive black bear management plan. However, no reliable estimates of population abundance or density are available. I used genotypes of black bears determined from hair samples collected in Lewis Ocean Bay and Carvers Bay to estimate population abundance and density. I obtained hair samples from snares during 8 weekly sampling periods in 2008 and 2009. I used Huggins closed population models to estimate abundance and spatially explicit capture- recapture models to estimate density. Based on model averaging, black bear abundance was 30 (SE = 9.3) on Carvers Bay and 42 (SE = 5.4) on Lewis Ocean Bay. Model-averaged density was 0.037 bears/km2 (SE = 0.003) for Carvers Bay. For Lewis Ocean Bay, population densities were much higher: 0.307 bears/km2 (SE = 0.025). I extrapolated the density estimates to the upper coastal region of South Carolina, using logistic regression to weight density based on similarity of the regional landscape with the 2 study areas. Predicted bear densities were low throughout the coastal region but several areas centered on more productive habitats (e.g., Carolina Bays, pocosin) and public lands (e.g., Francis Marion National Forest, Lewis Ocean Bay) had high densities. I also sampled an area in North Carolina and assessed genetic structure among the 3 areas. Based on heterozygosity, genetic distance, and genetic assignment, I found no evidence of historic or recent barriers to gene exchange among the 3 sampled populations. However, demographic connectivity may be a concern for areas such as Lewis Ocean Bay, which is surrounded by highways and development. If the goal is to maintain current black bear densities in those areas, maintaining connectivity with other habitat areas and mitigating impacts of highways would be important. The regional map of potential black bear density may be useful to identify areas that should be surveyed for occupancy or where additional studies may be conducted (e.g., Francis Marion National Forest).

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