Ecological implications from spatial patterns in human-caused brown bear mortality
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionWildlife Biology. 2016, 22 (4), 144-152. 10.2981/wlb.00165
Humans are important agents of wildlife mortality, and understanding such mortality is paramount for effective population management and conservation. However, the spatial mechanisms behind wildlife mortality are often assumed rather than tested, which can result in unsubstantiated caveats in ecological research (e.g. fear ecology assumptions) and wildlife conservation and/or management (e.g. ignoring ecological traps). We investigated spatial patterns in human-caused mortality based on 30 years of brown bear Ursus arctos mortality data from a Swedish population. We contrasted mortality data with random locations and global positioning system relocations of live bears, as well as between sex, age and management classes (‘problem’ versus ‘no problem’ bear, before and after changing hunting regulations), and we used resource selection functions to identify potential ecological sinks (i.e. avoided habitat with high mortality risk) and traps (i.e. selected habitat with high mortality risk). We found that human-caused mortality and mortality risk were positively associated with human presence and access. Bears removed as a management measure were killed in closer proximity to humans than hunter-killed bears, and supplementary feeding of bears did not alter the spatial structure of human-caused bear mortality. We identified areas close to human presence as potential sink habitat and agricultural fields (oat fields in particular) as potential ecological traps in our study area. We emphasize that human-caused mortality in bears and maybe in wildlife generally can show a very local spatial structure, which may have far-reaching population effects. We encourage researchers and managers to systematically collect and geo-reference wildlife mortality data, in order to verify general ecological assumptions and to inform wildlife managers about critical habitat types. The latter is especially important for vulnerable or threatened populations.