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Integrated Population Modeling of Black Bears in New York

Catherine Sun, Ph.D. Student

Since its first description in the 1950s, the black bear population in New York has been growing. Particularly, the Southern Black Bear Range, with approximately 2,000 bears, has been expanding northwards into central New York. Cat’s PhD seeks to develop non-harvest based spatial estimates of population size, density, and demographic rates of black bears in the Southern Black Bear Range, as harvest-based indices may not track true changes in the population.

This work builds on her Masters research in which she estimated bear density and distribution in a study area of the Southern Black Bear Range using noninvasive, genetic spatial capture recapture. This work will inform bear management and help to understand and anticipate the spatial patterns of black bear range expansion in New York.

Cat is developing an integrated population model that uses different datasets collected from the same population to more precisely and accurately estimate population parameters of ecological interest, including population size, distribution, and rates such as population growth, survival, and recruitment. The integrated population model will accommodate noninvasive spatial capture-recapture, camera trapping, radiotelemetry, citizen science, and harvest and hunter surveys.

Cat completed the alpha version of the citizen science project called iSeeMammals that collects presence-absence data from hikes and trail cameras submitted by the public. The app is compatible with Apple and Android smartphones. Multimedia outreach efforts, including workshops, lectures, interviews, and press releases were conducted to advertise the project. The website and smartphone app was launched in early spring, and by October 2017, a total of 712 users from across New York had signed up. iSeeMammals data contributed an additional 406 independent sets of spatial locations, increasing the spatial and temporal extent of data collection. iSeeMammals will continue to collect data, which will be used in the integrated population model to estimate population parameters.

Research assistant, Carlos Gemora, setting up the barbed wire hair snare at a research site.
Black bear hair snagged on barbed wire at a research site. DNA from the root follicles will be used to identify the bear.

Moose Population Assessment Using Spatial Capture-Recapture Methods

Alec Wong, M.S. Student

The recolonization of moose in the Northeast U.S. has seen generally steady growth in most states following extirpation from their range in the 1860s due to unregulated hunting and forest loss. Moose expanded back into their former range from populations in Maine in 1950, and eventually returned to New York in the 1980s. Current population estimates suggest that the New York population has not seen the same rate of increase as the rest of the Northeast states, with estimates of moose abundance ranging from 500-1,000 individuals (for comparison, neighboring Vermont has an estimated 3,000-4,000 moose).

This study aims to provide an estimate of moose abundance in New York State through spatial capture-recapture and noninvasive genetics. Within the Adirondack Park, we utilized scat detection dogs to detect moose feces along 70 3km transects in various habitats and management regimes. In theory, the identity of each individual moose can be determined from DNA in epithelial cells on the surface of the feces. The spatial capture-recapture method can subsequently provide estimates of local density. The models will include covariates on moose density including deer density, habitat type, forage availability, canopy cover, human activity, and topography, which are expected to help predict moose density. From these models we can also infer which of the hypothesized effects have the strongest relationship with moose distribution and density.

Moose Scat

In 2017, we collected nearly 1,000 moose scat samples between the months of June and August.

Alec Wong and team collecting field data

Due to the low encounter frequency of moose in the park using our methods in 2016, we developed an adaptive method of sampling under the SCR analytical framework. In brief, our method allows us to apply SCR sampling at only sites that are likely to provide samples during the season, and avoid sites without evidence of moose at the site. Simulation study shows that this method is at least as accurate & precise as ordinary SCR, but with approximately 50% of the effort. Implementation of this method in 2017 resulted in the four-fold increase in sample collections that we observed.

Sustainable Forest Communities: Integrated Land Stewardship Strategy for Native American Land Claims

Abraham Francis, M.S. Student

The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe (SRMT) governing body in the southern portion of Akwesasne is in the process of purchasing lands to be placed into trust – up to 13,000 acres from willing sellers. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is responsible for overseeing this land, along with the other 56.2 million acres of lands in trust for various Indigenous Communities and Individuals. Within this framework, SRMT is a category 2 tribe, which requires an approved Forest Management Plan or only very limited and restricted management can occur. Abe is developing a biologically and culturally informed forest stewardship strategy within the context of land claim areas in partnership with SRMT and grounded in the community. It contributes to an important cultural responsibility of SRMT to the land and community and aids them in asserting their rights over their lands.

Akwesasne, sovereign Mohawk community, holds a unique geographic location along the US and Canadian border. It is culturally, environmentally and politically diverse. It has a land base of approximately 14,648 acres of land on the American side, which will be expanded in the land claims process, and 7,400 acres of land on the Canadian side. The different variables that affect the lives of community member in tandem with biological information and cultural knowledge will aid in the development of the context-specific forest stewardship strategy.

The culture/forest tree diagram is a piece of work that was created by Victoria Ransom. It is a visual representation display of the values that were identified in the Collaborative Gathering

Rigorous sampling through community engagement occurred in the summer of 2017. The research season began with a Collaborative Gathering, which was hosted on June 3rd, 2017 at Akwesasne Housing Authority Training Center.

Collaborative Gathering, Akwesasne Housing Authority Training Center, June 3rd, 2017

The purpose of the gathering was to understand how Akwesasne community members view forests and articulate their values as they relate to Forest Stewardship. The graphic to the left is a  broad conceptual map that summarizes the results of the conversation and thoughts of the 32 people in attendance as well as 38 individual interviews.

Youth and Elder’s Gathering, Thompson Island, Akwesasne, July 25th, 2017





Conservation and management of Andean bears from regional to local scales: occupancy, density, connectivity, and threats

Robert Márquez, Ph.D. Student

The Andean bear is the only extant species of bear in South America and is considered threatened across its range due to habitat loss, fragmentation, and illegal hunting. Typically, Andean bear inhabit natural areas with little to no human presence/activity, occurring between 200-4700 m elevation. Nevertheless, in Colombia non-protected areas have historically had a high level of human presence/activity. Consequently, Andean bear populations are isolated, and exposed to a diverse degree of human related threats, including human-bear conflict in the form of retaliatory hunting. Monitoring changes in the Andean bear population, and understanding their relationship with threats and environmental variables is necessary for informing management decisions.

Robert presenting at the human – Andean bear conflict workshop at the Machu Picchu History Sanctuary, Peru.
Chingaza National Park – Colombia. Researchers from Cornell University, WCS and National Natural Park of Colombia.

The objectives of this study are to 1) evaluate the relationship between real/perceived damage caused by Andean bears, farmers’ attitudes about bears, and bear killing; 2) Evaluate landscape factors and species threats that contribute to regional occupancy of Andean bears. 3) Estimate density and connectivity of Andean bears in priority conservation areas, and evaluate the relationship between density and occupancy.




Tayra occupancy and carnivore co-occurrence dynamics in the Ecuadorian Andes

Vanessa Springer, M.S. Student

The Chocó-Andean region of Ecuador lies at the convergence of two of the world’s top 25 biodiversity hotspots and is home to more endemic species than any other hotspot on Earth. Unfortunately, half of this region has been deforested and the expansion of agriculture, development, and recently granted mining concessions threatens remaining forest. As part of an overarching project to design a socio-ecological corridor between two ecological reserves using the Andean bear (Tremarctos ornatus) as an umbrella species, two large-scale camera trapping surveys were implemented across 850 km² of forest in the region northwest of Quito, Ecuador.

Landscape within the study area near Mindo, Ecuador.

As a subset of the corridor design project, this specific study has two aims: 1) To evaluate how land use and land cover influence occupancy of tayra (Eira barbara), a generalist species throughout Latin America, and 2) to describe the spatial co-occurrence patterns between the Andean bear and other native and nonnative fauna including puma (Puma concolor) and domestic/feral dogs (Canis familiaris). This study will increase the understanding of how wildlife species are using the landscape and will contribute to conservation planning efforts in this region.

Angela and Vanessa on the hike up to Santa Lucia Ecolodge


Ocelot photo from our 2017 field study








Spatial Optimization of Invasive Species Management in New York

Jennifer Price-Tack, Postdoctoral Scientist

Managing invasive species across large areas often requires multiple objective decisions involving numerous species with a wide range of biological characteristics, impacts to valued goods and services, and a large number of treatment options. Although there have been advancements in models informing the management of invasive species to reduce their impacts, few approaches are available that address the issue of spatially optimizing the allocation of treatments for multiple species subject to a budget constraint and that explicitly considers difficult tradeoffs. Structured decision making provides a framework for informing such complex decisions that is robust, transparent, and values-focused.

We are using a structured decision making approach to aid invasive species management decisions, and are developing a novel decision tool that mangers can use to identify where and which treatments to apply for multiple invasive species that accounts for species-specific impacts, invasive pathways, and treatment feasibility. We are applying our approach to the management of invasive species in New York, considering alternatives for prevention, surveillance, control, and education.

Jen describing a prototype simplified spatial optimization model to the PRISM leaders

We are working with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC)and leaders from the 8 NY Partnerships for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISM). We are developing a tool that builds on the work of NY Heritage Program, NYSDEC, and others to help invasive species managers prioritize management actions based on species, areas, and projects statewide, with flexibility to tailor actions at the regional level. Ultimately, our approach will guide managers in determining which species should prioritized, where those species should be managed, and the best approach to managing them. We will also include metrics of treatment feasibility into the prioritization to ensure management dollars are well spent.

Leveraging partial identity information to advance noninvasive genetic, remote camera, and bioacoustics sampling of animal populations and improve conservation decision making

Ben Augustine, Atkinson Postdoctoral Fellow

Over the past two decades, new technologies have affected the way we study and understand animal populations. New, noninvasive methods for monitoring wildlife species such as genetic data from hair or scat samples, remote cameras, and bioacoustic monitoring, have allowed researchers to collect more abundant data than was previously possible. However, to estimate population parameters relevant to conservation decisions such as population density and growth rates, individuals must be individually identifiable which is only possible for small subset of species for which individual identities are easily determined such as the flank patterns of tigers seen in photographs or species that yield high quality DNA samples. The vast majority of noninvasive applications do not always provide an unambiguous determination of individual identity.

Estimation methods that incorporate partial identity information have only recently been developed and have not been extended to accommodate most types of partial identity problems that arise with noninvasive sampling. Further, the importance of the spatial location where a noninvasive sample is collected in determining individual identity has only recently been recognized and this information greatly improves the utility of noninvasive methods and introduces new, more efficient, study design options. The key idea of what we termed “spatial partial identity” is that because animal populations are spatially structured, the location where a noninvasive sample was collected contains information about its individual identity.

Ben’s work will generalize and adapt the spatial partial identity model to accommodate three other types of noninvasive sampling methods— genetic material from scat or hair samples, remote camera studies of species with more ambiguous natural marks (e.g. pumas), and bioacoustics surveys—with the principal goal of extending the utility of noninvasive methods for improving conservation decisions to a wider range of threatened species.