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Landscape partitioning and spatial inferences of competition between black and grizzly bears

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Population effects of competition between large carnivore species may be evident by contrasting actual distributions of putative competitors against predictions of inherent landscape quality for each species. Such comparison can be insightful if covariation with external factors known to influence the occurrence, density, or persistence of each species over space and time can be controlled. We used systematically-distributed DNA hair-trap stations to sample the occurrence of black bears (Ursus americanus) and grizzly bears (U. arctos) across 5496 km2 in southeastern British Columbia, Canada. We describe interspecific landscape partitioning according to terrain, vegetation and land-cover variables at 2 spatial scales. We developed multivariate models to predict the potential distribution of each species. At sampling site-session combinations that detected either species, we then investigated whether the expected or actual occurrence of each influenced the likelihood of detecting the other while controlling for human influence and inherent landscape quality. Black bears were more likely than grizzly bears to occur in gentle, valley bottom terrain with lower proportions of open habitats. Each species also was detected less frequently with the other species than predicted by their respective models; however, the strength of this relationship decreased as landscapes became more characteristic of black bear habitat. As landscapes showed higher inherent potential to support grizzly bears, black bears occurred more than model prediction in areas with higher human access and proximity to major highways but less in national parks. As potential to support black bears increased, grizzly bears occurred more than model prediction only in national parks and less with increasing human access and proximity to major highways. Results suggest that competition is occurring between the species, and that the differential response of each species to human disturbance or excessive mortality may influence the outcome and hence landscape partitioning. Moreover, black bears are more likely to benefit from human encroachment into landscapes of high inherent value for grizzly bears than vice versa. Conservation implications relate to potential mediating effects of habitat and human influence on competitive interactions between the species.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 2006

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