Contrasting past and current numbers of bears visiting Yellowstone cutthroat trout streams

Authors


  • Associate Editor: Scott McCorquodale.

ABSTRACT

Spawning cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii bouvieri) were historically abundant within tributary streams of Yellowstone Lake within Yellowstone National Park and were a highly digestible source of energy and protein for Yellowstone's grizzly bears (Ursus arctos) and black bears (U. americanus). The cutthroat trout population has subsequently declined since the introduction of non-native lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush), and in response to effects of drought and whirling disease (Myxobolus cerebralis). The trout population, duration of spawning runs, and indices of bear use of spawning streams had declined in some regions of the lake by 1997–2000. We initiated a 3-year study in 2007 to assess whether numbers of spawning fish, black bears, and grizzly bears within and alongside stream corridors had changed since 1997–2000. We estimated numbers of grizzly bears and black bears by first compiling encounter histories of individual bears visiting 48 hair-snag sites along 35 historically fished streams. We analyzed DNA encounter histories with Pradel-recruitment and Jolly-Seber (POPAN) capture-mark-recapture models. When compared to 1997–2000, the current number of spawning cutthroat trout per stream and the number of streams with cutthroat trout has decreased. We estimated that 48 (95% CI = 42–56) male and 23 (95% CI = 21–27) female grizzly bears visited the historically fished tributary streams during our study. In any 1-year, 46 to 59 independent grizzly bears (8–10% of estimated Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem population) visited these streams. When compared with estimates from the 1997 to 2000 study and adjusted for equal effort, the number of grizzly bears using the stream corridors decreased by 63%. Additionally, the number of black bears decreased between 64% and 84%. We also document an increased proportion of bears of both species visiting front-country (i.e., near human development) streams. With the recovery of cutthroat trout, we suggest bears that still reside within the Lake basin will readily use this high-quality food resource. © 2014 The Wildlife Society.

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