Date of Award

5-2019

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science

Major

Wildlife and Fisheries Science

Major Professor

Joseph D. Clark

Committee Members

William H. Stiver, Lisa Muller, John Zobel

Abstract

The American black bear, Ursus americanus, is an iconic symbol of Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GRSM or park), and park officials have speculated that bears developed conflict behavior outside of the park’s boundaries. The aim of my study was to better understand black bear space use within GRSM and on surrounding private lands and identify factors resulting in advanced conflict behavior in the park. I used carbon isotopic signatures (δ13C), from black bear hairs to distinguish between food-conditioned (FC) and non-food-conditioned (NFC) bears. I radio-collared FC and NFC bears and estimated annual and seasonal 95% kernel density estimation (KDE) home ranges. I then used conditional logistic regression to estimate a step selection function (SSF) to characterize movement of bears based on landscape characteristics and to determine if bears with higher mean δ13C used the landscape differently. Based on a logistic regression model with δ13C as a predictor variable, 24 bear hair samples were classified as FC (16M:8F) and 37 were classified as NFC (14M:23F). Annual 95% KDE home-ranges of female bears differed by year (P = 0.003-0.007) but not mean δ13C (P = 0.230-0.240). However, the mean proportion of development within female 95% KDE home ranges differed by mean δ13C (P < 0.001). Annual 95% KDE home-range sizes of male bears did not differ based on mean δ13C (P = 0.132) or year (P = 0.520). The mean proportion of development within male 95% KDE home ranges differed by mean δ13C (P = 0.022), and the mean proportion of development within home ranges tended to increase as mean δ13C increased. The top SSF model indicated that bears with higher mean δ13C had higher selection for low to moderate percent canopy cover and higher selection for slopes >15 degrees. The SSF model can be used to identify potential landscape modifications that could reduce the probability of bears using particular areas. Modifications could include reducing escape and canopy cover, particularly on moderate slopes. Managers will need to continue to collaborate with the communities surrounding GRSM to minimize the development of conflict behavior.

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