Habitat Use, Demography, and Landscape Ecology of the Black Bear in South Central Florida

  • Maehr, David (PI)

Grants and Contracts Details


In the face of expanding urbanization, proliferating highways, and the widespread loss of biodiversity, it may seem remarkable to consider the idea of expanding large carnivore populations in Florida. However, successful recovery of the Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi) depends on such expansion (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1987), and a statewide blueprint calls for the interconnection of preserves and other natural areas that will support large carnivores and other elements of Florida's native fauna and flora (Hoctor et al. 2000). Although critics of the concepts of corridors and interconnected landscapes may downplay the usefulness of such conservation approaches (Simberloffand Cox 1987, Simberloffet al. 1992), Florida's largest land mammal, the black bear (Ursus americanusjloridanus), would clearly benefit from a functional statewide metapopulation (Harris et al. 1996, Maehr et al. 2001). A successful metapopulation approach to managing the Florida black bear will include more than just the largest populations that are considered secure (Cox et al. 1994) because peripheral remnant populations could serve as stepping stones and future distribution centers in a statewide ecological network (Hoctor et al. 2000, Hoctor 2003). Further, these small populations may serve as reservoirs of unique genetic lineages and they likely provide ecosystem services that cannot be replaced by smaller ecological generalists such as raccoon (Procyon lotor), Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginianus), and gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus)(Maehr 1997a, Maehr et al. 2001). Over the last 3 decades individual black bears have demonstrated a proclivity for moving long distances and connecting disjunct Florida populations (Maehr et al. 1988, Maehr and Wooding 1992, Wooding et al. 1992, Smith 2001) including the longest known dispersal ofa female in North America (Maehr 1997a, Onorato and Hellgren 2001). This study proposes to examine the ecological and spatial characteristics of one of the last remaining, unstudied remnant black bear populations in Florida. Because of Highlands County's position in a quickly developing part of Florida, its linkage with North America's southeasternmost bear population (Maehr 1984, Brady and Maehr 1985, Maehr et al. 1988), and its existence in a landscape that appears unsuitable for black bear inhabitation (Hoctor 2003), it embodies unique ecological and conservation challenges. The findings of this study will be important in identifying essential core h~bitat and the critical pathways that link remnant forests and other important habitats in the region. The results will also suggest the short- and long-term prospects for the population's persistence through the examination of demographic and genetic data. Recommendations will then be made to promote population and landscape management that maintains this part of the black bear's range as integral to a statewide metapopulation. Objectives 1) Determine habitat use and preference patterns. 2) Determine the overall demographic and genetic status of the population.
Effective start/end date5/12/046/30/04


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