Research

Grizzly-PAW: Grizzly Population Assessment in Yellowhead is a NSERC funded collaborative Research and Development (CRD) project to improve our understanding of the impact of natural and anthropogenic disturbances on Grizzly bear habitat in the Yellowhead region of Western Alberta. The focus of the project is on geospatial information, disturbance ecology and animal geo-temporal movement analysis and involves the University of British Columbia (UBC) Alberta, and Saskatchewan.

 

Grizzly bears are considered a threatened species in Alberta and as a result, a considerable amount of research has taken place on conservation strategies to inform policy makers and management activities in the region. This research links with research led by the Foothills Research Institute’s (FRI) Grizzly Bear Program who, with a large group of partners including those from the energy and forestry sectors, universities, the private sector, and both provincial and federal governments, conduct research on grizzly bear populations in Alberta to support provincial recovery efforts. The project aims to address eight key questions posed by industry.

 

  • Q1: Have road density threshold approaches to landscape management influenced the abundance and distribution of grizzly bears?
  • Q2: Have changing landscape conditions (natural and anthropogenic change) and structural configuration influenced the region’s (Yellowhead BMA and Jasper National Park) grizzly bear population?
  • Q3: Can new carrying capacity research completed by the research team be evaluated in terms of predicted densities and distribution of grizzly bears in the study area?
  • Q4: Have changing landscape conditions associated with anthropogenic natural resource extraction resulted in changes in habitat selection by, and the health of, grizzly bears within the study area?
  • Q5: Are the movement patterns of grizzly bears being impacted by natural resource extraction activities, including the development and use of roads and linear features, and have approaches to access control on the landscape influenced habitat use or grizzly bear movements?
  • Q6: Do the resource selection models (RSF) that have been developed, and are used by resource managers in Alberta continue to provide useful surrogates for habitat quality in changing landscapes?
  • Q7: Have changing landscape conditions affected grizzly bear mortality risk within the study area?
  • Q8: How does grizzly bear conservation relate to broader questions of biodiversity conservation within the ecosystem?

 

Research Themes

 

Based on the questions provided by our industrial research partners, this CRD addresses a suite of linked topics using an overall conservation management framework described through a series of applied research themes. Each theme answers specific questions and produces key deliverables to our industrial partners as well as provincial and federal government partners.

Theme 1 addresses questions around the Yellowhead environment and sets the broader landscape and environmental context of the Yellowhead bear management unit. Theme 2 involves investigating demographic responses relating to population status, size and change; Theme 3 focuses on grizzly bear health, which involves individual-animal responses relating to their (3a) behaviour and (3b) physiology.

 

Theme 1

Disturbance mapping provides key information to address several questions about grizzly bears. This research will use remote sensing to monitor human and non-human changes in the landscape, snow cover fluctuations, and road utilization. Research will further the definition and mapping of eco-anthromes and evaluate the use of biodiversity as a proxy to the health of other species.

Number Title Research Question and Short Description Link to Industry Question HQP
Q 1.1 Yellowhead Disturbance Assessment and characterization of EcoAnthromes disturbance regimes. What are the temporal and spatial dynamics of fine-scale anthropogenic and non-anthropogenic disturbances over the Yellowhead management area and can they be characterized across the region? Q1 and Q2

Sean Kearney, UBC

 

Q 1.2 Yellowhead Disturbance Assessment and Regional Snow Melt and Spring Flush Dynamics.

What are the temporal and spatial dynamics of snow melt and spring flush and how do these interact to affect den emergence and spring habitat use and selection.

 

Q2 Ethan Berman, UBC
Q 1.3 Grizzly Bears and Biodiversity Examine and test whether grizzly bears provide umbrella effects to other species, supporting their inclusion in a broader biodiversity management framework. Q8 Emily Cicon, UofA

 

Theme 2

We consider that demographics (e.g. sex and age class) and trends (e.g. increase) in the Yellowhead bear management area (BMA 3) grizzly bear population are largely under the influence of two broad categories of factors: 1) top-down factors, which are those related to mortality of bears; and 2) bottom-up factors, which are those related to the food and nutritional resource dynamics of grizzly bears. A third more specific factor influencing the population are the translocations of individuals (management bears) into BMA 3 from other populations. Population trends and demographics are also influenced by natural rates of immigration and emigration, although frequently these can be assumed to be similar in value.

Number Title Research Question and Short Description Link to Industry Question HQP
Q 2.1 Yellowhead Population Demographic Analysis

What are the trends in population demographics between 2004 and 2014 for the Yellowhead grizzly bear populations and can these changes be related to road density or other changing landscape conditions?

 

 

Q1 and Q2

Sean Coogan, UofA

 

Q2.2 Food supply and landscape carrying capacity How does food supply change as a function of landscape change and how can this directly be incorporated into forest harvest planning? How well do existing RSF functions developed by FRI compare to the landscape carrying capacity approach for the grizzly bear population within Yellowhead? Q3 and Q6 Chris Souliere, UofA

 

Theme 3A: Behaviour

Movement is a behavioural indicator of grizzly bear health that can be used to illuminate spatial variation in the current conditions of bears and set the stage for modelling responses to future change. It is the fundamental behavioural characteristic linking wildlife to the landscape and individuals to a population. Given the wealth of grizzly bear positional data and landscape data generated from over a decade of research in Alberta, the Yellowhead grizzly bear population represents an unparalleled opportunity for understanding and predicting movement of these elusive animals, and understanding how our actions and decisions influence their behaviour.

Number Title Research Question and Description Link to Industry Question HQP
3A.1 Movement and health Can grizzly bear responses to disturbance, as represented by movement and health, be modeled to allow probabilistic prediction of future movement associated with changes in landscape disturbance and habitat fragmentation? Q4 and Q5

Mathieu Bourbonnais, UVic

 

3A.2 Human Use and Mortality Can grizzly bear movements be related to fine scale changes in forest structure, such as openings, gaps, and vegetation patterns? Q5 Brandon Prehn, UBC
3A.3 Forest structure, understorey function, connectivity and movement

Can changes in understory phenology, and forest structure at very fine spatial scales be linked to bear movement patterns?

 

 

Q5

Cameron McClelland, UBC

 

3A.4 Contextualizing movement in response to landscape features What are the fine scale movement, health and survival responses to cumulative effects that are dynamic in space and time? Q5

Bethany Arndt, UBC

 

3.A5 Contextualizing movement and road density

Have road density thresholds been effective, and are there improved approaches to understanding the links between road density and bear mortality across the Yellowhead ecosystem?

 

Q1 and Q7 TBD

 

Theme 3B: Physiology

 

The overall goal of this objective is to develop novel techniques to assess the physiological status of individual grizzly bears using non-invasive sampling methods (collection of hair and skin biopsies) that do not necessarily require the capture and restraint of bears. This approach can be thought of as “conservation medicine”, where modern, state-of-the-science analytical techniques used routinely in human biomedical sciences (e.g., disease diagnosis, pharma) are applied to free-ranging wildlife. There are two techniques we will implement during this research project: quantification of multiple steroid hormones in hair, and proteomic analyses of multiple proteins expressed in skin.

Number Title Research Question and Description Link to Industry Question HQP
3B.1 Physiological Function Markers Can the grizzly bear protein microarray be utilized operationally to assess overall bear health, and is variation in health expressions (stress, energy metabolism, reproduction, immune function) associated with landscape change variables?

Q4

 

Paul Janz, USask