Coastal bear monitoring project
Glendale grizzlies, British Columbia (Photo by Klaus Gretzmacher)
Monitoring bear populations can be valuable for many reasons, including understanding bear-salmon dynamics and understanding bears as an asset for ecotourism. Information on grizzly bear populations can also inform resource management and conservation.
Monitoring bears in the context of salmon abundance is also important. When there is less easily accessible and high-quality food such as salmon, two things can happen: females have fewer offspring, and males engage in risky food-seeking behaviour that often ends in human-bear conflict and lethal control. Researchers have also found that when bears are able to eat more meat, their populations become more dense.
Given these relationships between bear populations and food abundance in other areas, and the current levels of salmon on this coast, our work tries to understand if — and if so, how strongly — bear and salmon dynamics might be coupled. Knowledge about this relationship can help inform both management of both bears and salmon.
Passive hair snagging
Wuikinuxv high school students helping with bear monitoring project, BC (Photo by ACS Lab, University of Victoria)
This project monitors bear population trends in relation to salmon abundance using genetic and dietary data that can be collected from bear hair. The hair is collected non-invasively from scent baited, barbed wire corrals. When entering and leaving the corral, bears leave hair, which is then used in genetic analyses. Because the bait cannot be consumed, bears do not linger at or defend these stations.
Hair samples tell us how much salmon individual bears are eating (via chemical isotope analysis) and how individuals respond to salmon declines (via hormones related to stress, reproduction and starvation).
Hair samples are then sent to the Wildlife Genetics International lab in Nelson, BC. Here, microsatellite genetic data identify species, sex and individual bears. Using this information, researchers can estimate whether population numbers are stable, increasing or decreasing.
Hair snag information will be paired with remote infrared cameras, to expand the available data on the populations of black and grizzly bears in the research area. Data from these cameras will fill in the knowledge gaps that DNA alone cannot answer, such as annual breeding success, size class of individuals and fine scale spatial and temporal use of resources.
Cameras will record in the spring, summer and fall seasons, thereby gaining insight into intra-annual movement of bears, especially close to Wuikinuxv village. Remote camera photographs provide complimentary data to our sampling work. They can also be used for project outreach and to engage community members and youth.