Characterizing recolonization by a reintroduced bear population using genetic spatial capture–recapture

Sean M. Murphy, John J. Cox, Ben C. Augustine, John T. Hast, Joseph M. Guthrie, John Wright, Joseph McDermott, Sutton C. Maehr, Jayson H. Plaxico

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Many large carnivores are recolonizing range as a result of improved management and conservation policy, habitat restoration, and reintroduction programs. American black bears (Ursus americanus) are projected to recolonize portions of the United States, but few studies have characterized or provided practical methods for monitoring this process. We used noninvasive hair sampling at 4 proximal study areas along the Kentucky–Virginia, USA, border during 2012–2013 to estimate demographics and population genetics, and investigate recolonization patterns of an American black bear population that was founded by 55 bears reintroduced to a fragmented mountainous landscape during the 1990s and subjected to harvest 6 years post-reintroduction. Using spatially explicit capture–recapture (SECR) models, we estimated a density of 0.26 bear/km2, or minimum abundance of 482 bears, distributed among 2 primary core areas previously identified by occupancy analysis: a southern and northern core area. The southern core area was established by a founder adult female that exhibited post-release dispersal, but moderate asymmetrical gene flow (Nm = 6 bears) from the northern core area mitigated deleterious genetic consequences typical of such founder events. Effective number of breeders (NB = 62 bears) was similar to the number of founders, suggesting that genetically, the population remains mostly the product of reintroduction. Despite limited connectivity with other populations in the region, genetic diversity (HE = 0.78) was retained because of rapid population growth during the 16 years post-reintroduction (λ = 1.14/year). This bear population exhibited demographic characteristics indicative of continued recolonization, including a significantly female-biased sex ratio (0.53M:1.00F) and female density decreasing with increasing distance from the reintroduction release areas in the northern core. Few bear detections at 2 peripheral study areas and results from SECR model detection function transformation suggested recolonization may continue to the southwest and northeast along prominent linear mountain ridges. Although the population has grown and is genetically stable, because of relatively low population density and recolonization direction, we suggest monitoring demographic vital rates to evaluate harvest sustainability and population viability. Our study demonstrates the utility of noninvasive genetic sampling in conjunction with SECR models to characterize and monitor recolonizing bear populations, which may also be useful for management of expanding populations of other large carnivores.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1390-1407
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Wildlife Management
Issue number8
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Wildlife Society, 2016


  • American black bear
  • Ursus americanus
  • density
  • detection function transformation
  • effective population size
  • genetic diversity
  • large carnivore
  • recolonization
  • reintroduction
  • spatial capture–recapture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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