Estimating Black Bear Density Using DNA Data From Hair Snares




ABSTRACT  DNA-based mark-recapture has become a methodological cornerstone of research focused on bear species. The objective of such studies is often to estimate population size; however, doing so is frequently complicated by movement of individual bears. Movement affects the probability of detection and the assumption of closure of the population required in most models. To mitigate the bias caused by movement of individuals, population size and density estimates are often adjusted using ad hoc methods, including buffering the minimum polygon of the trapping array. We used a hierarchical, spatial capture-recapture model that contains explicit components for the spatial-point process that governs the distribution of individuals and their exposure to (via movement), and detection by, traps. We modeled detection probability as a function of each individual's distance to the trap and an indicator variable for previous capture to account for possible behavioral responses. We applied our model to a 2006 hair-snare study of a black bear (Ursus americanus) population in northern New York, USA. Based on the microsatellite marker analysis of collected hair samples, 47 individuals were identified. We estimated mean density at 0.20 bears/km2. A positive estimate of the indicator variable suggests that bears are attracted to baited sites; therefore, including a trap-dependence covariate is important when using bait to attract individuals. Bayesian analysis of the model was implemented in WinBUGS, and we provide the model specification. The model can be applied to any spatially organized trapping array (hair snares, camera traps, mist nests, etc.) to estimate density and can also account for heterogeneity and covariate information at the trap or individual level.