In the northern U.S. Rockies, including the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE), connectivity is a concern because large carnivores have difficulties dispersing successfully between protected areas. One area of high conservation value because of its importance for connecting the GYE to wilderness areas of central Idaho is the Centennial Mountains and surrounding valleys (2500 km2) along the Idaho–Montana border just west of Yellowstone National Park. The current expansion of grizzly bears (Ursus arctos) and other large carnivore populations outside protected areas of Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park has placed a greater emphasis on potential linkage zones in the northern Rockies. Here we use black bears (Ursus americanus) as a test case to demonstrate the utility of using detection dogs and DNA analysis coupled with resource selection probability function (RSPF) models to examine habitat suitability for large carnivores in critical linkage zones. Detection dogs specifically trained to locate the scat of black bears and grizzly bears were used to sample the study area. Here we report the RSPF results for black bears and discuss the utility of detection dogs for sampling species of carnivores to undertake similar analyses. Utilizing location data from genetic analysis of 616 fecal samples for black bears, we developed a RSPF model to examine use of the landscape with respect to habitat parameters, public land management, private lands, and human activities. The most parsimonious model determining probability of use for black bears included parameters for elevation, coniferous forest, land stewardship, road density, distance to roads, and an interaction between human population density and road density at the scale of 500 m. The model identified specific core-habitat areas in the region that potentially are crucial for the Yellowstone population of grizzly bears as it expands into areas west of Yellowstone National Park. Here we demonstrate that detection dogs are a useful method for sampling large carnivores and, when coupled with genetics and RSPF models, offer an effective approach to addressing questions of habitat suitability in areas of high conservation importance.
|Publication Title||Western North American Naturalist|
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