Date of Award

8-2009

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science

Major

Wildlife and Fisheries Science

Major Professor

Frank T. van Manen

Committee Members

Joseph D. Clark, Lisa I. Muller, Arnold M. Saxton

Abstract

A 19.3-km section of U.S. Highway 64 in Washington County, North Carolina was rerouted to a 4-lane, divided highway with 3 wildlife underpasses during 2001–2005. I determined the short-term population and genetic impacts of the new highway on American black bears (Ursus americanus). I used DNA from hair samples collected during 7 weekly sampling periods within the project area of the new highway and a nearby control area during 2000 (pre-construction phase) and 2006 (post-construction phase; n = 70 sites for each study area). DNA from the hair samples was used to obtain genotypes of sampled bears using 10 microsatellite markers. I created capture histories of all identified individuals and used closed mark-recapture models in Program MARK to estimate abundance. Population abundance decreased on the treatment area from 68 (CI = 53–82) before construction to 20 (CI = 14–26) after completion of the highway. On the control area, population abundance decreased from 144 to 101. Using permutation procedures, I determined that the decrease in population abundance on the treatment area was greater compared with the control area (P = 0.0012). Additionally, I used bear visits to the sampling sites with multi-season occupancy models in Program MARK to determine if site occupancy decreased following the construction of the highway and if any decrease was a function of distance from the highway. Following highway construction, site occupancy decreased more on the treatment area than the control area but was not a function of distance from the highway. Finally, I used the microsatellite data to compare gene flow, isolation by distance, heterozygosity, allelic diversity, population assignment, and genetic structure (Fst) before and after completion of the highway. I did not observe any treatment effects for these genetic measures. I speculate that displacement during the construction of the highway and mortality due to bear-vehicle collisions contributed to the population decline and decrease in site occupancy. Although the wildlife underpasses facilitated genetic and demographic connectivity, my study indicates that the potential impact of new highways on black bear population abundance is an important consideration for transportation infrastructure planning.

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