First telemetry project to study subadult dispersal in the small, isolated and endangered brown bear population in the Cantabrian Mountains.
Project no. IBA-RG_15_2019

Vincenzo Penteriani, Spanish National Research Council (C.S.I.C.)
Cantabrian Brown Bear Research Group

Project summary

The endangered population of the Cantabrian brown bear: (a) lives in an area characterized by a high density of people and human infrastructures; (b) is composed of two subpopulations (western and eastern) with little connection between them; and (c) data on bear movements, space use and rhythms of activity are extremely scarce and limited to few recovered individuals. This project aims to study bear dispersal in a human-modified landscape. This research is especially important in small, endangered brown bear populations, as is the case of the Cantabrian population, one of the smallest and most isolated bear populations in the whole of Europe. Subadult dispersal is a crucial process allowing for expansion of the species towards suitable areas still unoccupied by the species and connection between the two subpopulations. However, we lack information on dispersal routes and strategies, as well as the causes and rates of subadult mortality, which may affect the viability of this small and isolated population at the southernmost limits of the brown bear’s worldwide distribution. Thus, to ensure the viability of this population it is not sufficient to preserve those habitats which guarantee food and shelter, as good connectivity between the two subpopulations must also be increased and maintained to allow the spread of individuals (and genes) between the two nuclei and towards areas that have not yet been occupied by this expanding population. Consequently, the most urgent priority for the conservation of the Cantabrian brown bear population is the study of juvenile dispersal, and the most appropriate method to obtain this information is the capture and radiocollaring of subadults. In fact, telemetry will allow for the understanding of the key dispersal habitats during the different phases of bear biology, the physical barriers that bear are faced with and how to remove them, as well as the dangers potentially affecting the survival of dispersing individuals.

The IBA grant allows us to start the telemetry project this year by purchasing the first GPS collars for bears and completing the preparation of the remote system for bear capture. Because of the vulnerability of this small, isolated and still endangered brown bear population, the information we will get from this telemetry study will be crucial for the long-term conservation of this species in the Cantabrian Mountains.

Watch the reserachers’ video below.

Evaluating methods for monitoring Southeast Asian bears.
Project no. IBA-RG_05_2019.

Brian Crudge, Free The Bears
University of South-Eastern Norway

Project Summary

Southeast Asia is home to two native bear species: the Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus) and the Sun bear (Helarctos malayanus). Much remains unknown about the ecology of these species, largely due to their secretive, solitary nature and dense forest habitats which make them difficult to study. Consequently, even the presence of these species in an area is often. Both Sun bears and Asiatic black bears are threatened throughout their range by habitat loss and commercial poaching, and it is considered a conservation priority to clarify the uncertain distribution and the status of extant populations. Uncertainty as to the presence and/or status of these species both at the site and landscape level impedes the development of effective conservation strategies and hinders the monitoring, evaluation and adaptation of conservation interventions. Highlighting the importance of addressing the issue, the Sun Bear Conservation Action Plan identifies as a priority goal the development of monitoring protocols that would allow researchers to reliably detect population change.

The long-term goal of this project is to inform the development of guidelines for effectively monitoring bear population trends throughout Southeast Asia in order to enable the evaluation and adaptive management of conservation interventions. This project will use existing interview data from 22 protected areas throughout Vietnam and bear sign data collected in a sub-set of four protected areas, as well as data from an inter-observer variability study that was conducted in Northeast Cambodia, in order to evaluate the reliability and applicability of bear sign survey techniques for bear population monitoring in Southeast Asia. This research represents one of only a few field projects in the region for these under-studied species.

The grant awarded by IBA to this project will greatly increase the value of three separate data sets, will build organizational capacity within Free the Bears, and will contribute to the development of monitoring guidelines for Sun bears and Asiatic black bears. All of which will ultimately have long-term benefits for the conservation of bears in Southeast Asia.

Sloth Bear ecology in the dry forests of southern Rajasthan: multi-season occupancy, and year-long diet.
Project no. IBA-RG_13_2019.

Vijay Kumar Koli, Mohanlal Sukhadia University, Udaipur
K.S. Gopi Sundar, Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysuru

Project Summary

Sloth Bears are widely distributed in the Indian sub-continent, but high-resolution studies that identify variables affecting their occupancy and diet are restricted to few sites, mostly in south India. Multi-season studies that evaluate both factors affecting occupancy and bear diet are also sparse. These lacunae require attention since bears inhabit many areas that experience drastic variations in seasonal conditions of habitats. There is no information on bear ecology and requirements from dry deciduous forests of the arid and semi-arid tracks of India – a poorly studied habitat type that covers a significant portion of Sloth Bear distribution range.

The project aims to determine local- and landscape-scale factors influencing multi-season occupancy and documenting the year-long diet of Sloth Bears in two contiguous wildlife sanctuaries namely Kumbhalgarh and Todgarh-Raoli in southern Rajasthan. One of the key focus areas will be to determine if bears show seasonal variations in diet, and to document whether these variations are due to wild species or crops grown beside the sanctuaries. The project’s findings will help understand Sloth Bear ecology in a previously ignored population and will likely also help towards identifying how much human activities may be influencing bear behaviour.

The IBA grant is very timely in facilitating all the discoveries that are to come. The grant will help to uncover secrets of Sloth Bears from south Rajasthan’s semi-arid forests that will be applicable across a large swathe of the bears’ distribution range. The grant will also enable the completion of a PhD dissertation and will help to add trained personnel versed with bear research in south Asia.

Andean bear conservation in the eastern highlands of Quito: habitat-use and connectivity in private protected areas and a national park.
Project no. IBA-RG_23_2019.

Rebecca Zug, Universidad San Francisco de Quito
Santiago Molino, Universidad San Francisco de Quito

Project Summary

In Ecuador, Andean bears are listed as an endangered species, threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation, illegal hunting, and retaliatory killing after conflicts with livestock. Despite these pressures, bears have been seen within and around the Metropolitan District of Quito (MDQ), Ecuador’s capital. Our project is a large-scale, multi-year effort that will focus on the Andean bear population just outside of the eastern MDQ limits in the greater Antisana – Cayambe Coca landscape. Guided by the research objectives of the Andean Bear Action Plan for Ecuador (2019), we will focus on landscape-scale connectivity, examination of factors that influence habitat-use, and research on bear genetic variability on local and national levels. Our study area (130 km2) is comprised of three connected sites where bears have been reported: Reserva Chakana (Antisanilla), APH Ponce-Paluguillo, and the northwestern corner of Reserva Ecologica Antisana. The study area is primarily high-altitude páramo habitat, includes two rural communities with livestock and domestic animals, and is bordered to the north and south by well-traveled roads. With the support of two local NGOs, this project will: 1) evaluate the connectivity of this landscape using GPS collared bears, 2) determine factors associated with the distribution and habitat selection of Andean bears in the study area, 3) collect and test hair samples to measure the genetic variability of the local population, and 4) engage in environmental education and community outreach through workshops. Our results will directly contribute to conservation actions for this region and the national effort to better understand the status and distribution of Ecuador’s bear population.

The IBA Research and Conservation Grant funding will go directly to support our field team and equipment purchases. This grant provides the initial funding needed to launch the project and trigger the in-kind and institutional support committed by our partner NGOs and the Universidad San Francisco de Quito. We are incredibly grateful to IBA for their confidence and support.

Discerning conservation implication through occupancy inferences of Sloth bear outside protected area of Nepal.
Project no. IBA-RG_16_2019.

Manoj Pokharel, Independent Researcher

Project Summary

Sloth bears, which in Nepal are confined to few isolated forest patches of lowlands, are listed as endangered species in the National Red List of Nepal. This assessment is based on their small estimated population (<250 adults) with anticipation of further declines in future years. In comparison to other large mammalian fauna, research and conservation of sloth bears in Nepal is highly neglected. Even the basic ecological information for sloth bears outside of Chitwan National Park is unavailable, and their situation in non-protected areas remains unexplored till the date.

Anecdotal evidences, mostly reports of local people, suggest the presence of a fairly good sloth bear population in the Trijuga forest of eastern Nepal. However, there has been no scientific validation of this information. The region, being situated outside of the protected zone, experiences substantial human intervention in sloth bear habitat, making them face constant anthropogenic threats. Furthermore, negative attitude towards sloth bear is prevalent among the locals, chiefly because of sloth bears’ aggressiveness leading to frequent human attacks.

In the absence of immediate conservation measures, this small and isolated bear population may ultimately extirpate from the region.  Moreover, the dearth of scientific information on bears and awareness among local people has greatly diminished the possibility of introducing effective conservation measures targeted to sloth bears. This project will assess the single-season site occupancy of sloth bears in the Trijuga forest concerning their ecology and threats. Likewise, conservation education programs would be undertaken to make local people informed about sloth bear ecology and conservation importance, intending to minimize negative human-sloth bear interactions. With the provision of hands-on training in wildlife survey techniques to two local field assistants, this project also supports capacity development of the locals in wildlife conservation.

The funding from IBA has ensured in filling the existing ecological knowledge gap of sloth bears from the region of Nepal that has received very little scientific attention. The grant will further aid in establishing a foundation for community-based sloth bear conservation through conservation education and capacity development initiatives.

Study of Genetic Variation with respect to Geographical Location in Indian Sloth Bears (Melursus ursinus) using Single Nucleotide Polymorphic (SNPs) Markers.
Project no. IBA-RG_20_2019.

Neelu Soni, Sant Gadge Baba Amravati University, Amravati
Dr. P.V. Thakare, Sant Gadge Baba Amravati University, Amravati
Dr. Uma Ramakrishnan, National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru

Project Summary

Sloth bears are endemic to Indian subcontinent namely, India, Nepal, Bhutan and is one of the most widespread bear species in India. They are considered as Vulnerable according to CITES listing: Appendix I and are protected under Schedule I of Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972. Habitat fragmentation and degradation has led to severe decline of the population across India. The population has become very patchy and fragmented. This isolation and loss of connectivity will lead to reduced genetic diversity and hence risk of extinction. Genetic diversity guarantees a population to evolve and adapt to changes in environmental conditions.

Genetic based conservation is one of the emerging and promising field in species conservation. We have very less genetic data available for the Sloth bear. This project aims to identify genetic marker i.e, Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) markers based on which the genetic variation and population structure of Sloth bear across India will be studied based on statistical tools and softwares available for population genetics desired studies. We aim to then identify SNPs that are zone or regions specific.

The IBA grant support for this project has added tremendous value to it. Being a PhD project, thought for such a wide scale study would not have been possible without this grant. I am very happy to get this grant consecutively for 2 years and I would really like to thank IBA for considering my project for a second grant as well without much data produced in the first year. This has shown the importance of this project and has made me more determined to achieve the mentioned goals which will have a  great impact for conservation of this species.

The impact of blister rust, bark beetle and wildfire on the whitebark pine population, and its influence on grizzly bear habitat management and conservation in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
Project no. IBA-RG_10_2019.

Henriette Wathne Gelink, Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences
Dan Tyers, Interagency grizzly bear study team, US Forest Service
Olivier Devineau, Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences

Project Summary

Whitebark pine is native to high-elevation forests in Canada and northwestern United States, predominantly above 2000 m, and is an important producer of large fat-rich seeds which several species depend on, including the Clark`s nutcracker, red squirrel, black bear, and grizzly bear. This high elevation ecosystem fully depends on the symbiotic relationship between whitebark pine seed availability and the nutcracker`s ability to plant seeds, and any interference may cause cascading effects influencing essential functions and endangered species, such as the iconic grizzly bears of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Whitebark pine seeds are one of the most essential foods for grizzly bears during the hyperphagia period when bears fatten for winter hibernation. As mortality of cone-bearing whitebark pine has increased, efforts to manage grizzly bear habitat is becoming more important as means to conserve grizzly bear populations. Why are the trees dying? How will bears adapt to diminishing food resources? The aim of my PhD project is to understand the ecosystem-wide link between grizzly bears and the availability of whitebark pine cones during the fall, under changing environmental conditions. To investigate the link between grizzly bears and whitebark pine cone availability, we monitored the condition of 3384 individually marked whitebark pine trees on 115 belt transects, from 2008 to 2018. Preliminary findings from our 2008-2012 survey suggests that 84% of whitebark pine mortality was related to mountain pine beetles. Moreover, 7%, 20%, and 39% of the dead trees were saplings, pole trees and mature trees, respectively. We also found that white pine blister rust is linked to a smaller proportion of whitebark pine mortality. We are currently running a capture-mark-recapture analysis of whitebark pine mortality for the complete study period (2008-2018). The results could tell us whether tree survival and mortality alter between years, if pine beetle outbreaks have a lagging effect on whitebark pine mortality, and which environmental covariates are more likely to contribute to whitebark pine mortality. Between beetles and blister rust, we expect beetles to have the most detrimental effect on the whitebark pine population in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

The IBA Research and Conservation Grant has enabled us to assess whitebark pine survival and mortality in relation to insect and fungus outbreaks, and to understand the underlying environmental factors driving beetle infection. This will allow us to investigate how a changing environment could affect the management and conservation of grizzly bear habitat and populations in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. I am truly grateful that the IBA has given me the opportunity to pursue this project.

Integrated population modeling and optimizing monitoring strategies: applications to polar bear management and conservation.
Project no. IBA-RG_07_2019.

Kylee Dunham, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton
Markus Dyck, Department of Environment, Igloolik, Nunavut
David N. Koons, Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology, and Graduate Degree Program in Ecology, Colorado State University
Alastair Franke, Arctic Raptors Inc., Nunavut Wildlife Cooperative Research Unit, University of Alberta, Edmonton
Andrew Derocher, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton

Project Summary

Estimates of population size and structure of the Davis Strait polar bear (Ursus maritimus) subpopulation are uncertain due, in large part, to the prohibitive costs of conducting regular surveys. Additionally, there is a great deal of uncertainty in future population viability in response to climate change, harvest, prey availability, and density dependence because of the limited ability to monitor abundance and demographic performance. The aim of our project is twofold, first we want to apply an integrated population modeling strategy for Davis Strait polar bears, and second, we want to evaluate optimal monitoring strategies based on lessons learned from constructing the population models that can be applied to monitoring polar bears. Our project is comprised of two phases; the first, is to gather available data on Davis Strait polar bears to construct an integrated population model for estimating population parameters and evaluating effects of environmental stressors and harvest, the second, is to evaluate the efficacy of monitoring strategies for polar bears in the Davis Strait subpopulation and beyond. Our research will provide three major outputs: 1) up-to-date estimates of population size, trend, demographic rates, and effects of environmental stressors and harvest on population dynamics of Davis Strait polar bears, 2) a quantitative evaluation of optimal monitoring strategies for Davis Strait polar bears, 3) a critical review and assessment of current monitoring strategies for all subpopulations. This project will be addressing a number of critical issues that have hindered the effective assessment of population bear subpopulations.

This IBA Research and Conservation grant offers us the opportunity to attend scientific conferences to share this work will fellow researchers and provides much needed funding to publish this work in top tier journals with hopes to motivate further research into the most effective population monitoring strategies for polar bears.

Efficacy of eDNA methods for monitoring sun bear populations (Helarctos malayanus).
Project no. IBA-RG_19_2019.

Sandeep Sharma, University of Goettingen

Project Summary

Sun bears are threatened by habitat loss and illegal hunting throughout their range. Targeted management would be greatly aided by knowledge of population status and trends, including efficient and cost-effective methods to monitor populations. Recent developments in eDNA methods offer much promise to monitor sun bear populations, including the potential to identify individuals. The objective of our study is to test the use of haematophagous leeches and dung beetles as a non-invasive genetic source to detect and possibly identify individual sun bears. This research idea is an outcome of a workshop held in Taiwan in Nov 2019 for developing population monitoring guidelines for Asian bears, which was organized and supported by IUCN’s Bear Specialist Group. The workshop participants unanimously agreed on the paucity of reliable population monitoring methods for sun bears. It was also suggested that new methods such as eDNA should evaluated for their effectiveness to detect sun bears and facilitate population monitoring. We anticipate that our research finding will further be used for optimizing methods of field sampling and laboratory analysis for non-invasive monitoring of sun bears. If successful, the technique has broad applications, including large-scale studies to estimate distribution, abundance, and population genetic parameters in sun bear populations.

With support from the IBA’s Research and Conservation grant, we have initiated a study to develop and pilot a suite of non-invasive methods for efficient monitoring of the sun bear populations. We are also building local capacity for this research with this grant. Field research and capacity building activities were seemingly a mammoth task due to pandemic induced impediments, but our collaborative efforts paved the way forward. We are thankful to IBA and donors for supporting our field research for a lesser-known and least studied bear species!

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