As opportunistic omnivores, American black bears (Ursus amercianus) show great plasticity in their foraging and can become quickly habituated to novel diet items, including human-derived ones. Capable of utilizing a wide range of habitats, black bears are increasingly encountering humans and our food sources (both as intentional bear bait, and unintentional garbage). The degree to which bears become reliant on these resources and subsequent effects on individual condition and population dynamics remain largely unknown. We are interested in understanding how bears are responding to these novel situations.
To quantify the relative importance of human-derived foods, we are examining assimilated diet with stable isotope analysis. In collaboration with Dr. Dave McFarland (WI DNR), we are assessing the importance of bear bait as a resource in northern Wisconsin. In collaboration with Dr. Mat Alldredge (CPW), we are also researching regional bear diet and use of human foods across Colorado.
Further, we are examining the utility of telomere length as a proxy for individual fitness and senescence in Colorado bears. To do so, we are considering landscape-level drivers of telomere length as measured in hunter-harvested bear samples.
Our studies into bear foraging ecology and fitness aim to provide insight into bear responses to human development and direct applications to conservation and management.
This work is funded by the American Society of Mammalogists, Colorado Parks & Wildlife, and the Wisconsin DNR.