University of Helsinki, Helsinki 2006
Habitat use and population dynamics of brown bears (Ursus arctos) in Scandinavia
Doctoral dissertation, December 2006.
Large carnivore populations are currently recovering from past extirpation efforts and expanding back into their original habitats. At the same time human activities have resulted in very few wilderness areas left with suitable habitats and size large enough to maintain populations of large carnivores without human contact. Consequently the long-term future of large carnivores depends on their successful integration into landscapes where humans live. Thus, understanding their behaviour and interaction with surrounding habitats is of utmost importance in the development of management strategies for large carnivores. This applies also to brown bears (Ursus arctos) that were almost exterminated from Scandinavia and Finland at the turn of the century, but are now expanding their range with the current population estimates being approximately 2600 bears in Scandinavia and 840 in Finland.
This thesis focuses on the large-scale habitat use and population dynamics of brown bears in Scandinavia with the objective to develop modelling approaches that support the management of bear populations. Habitat analysis shows that bear home ranges occur mainly in forested areas with a low level of human influence relative to surrounding areas. Habitat modelling based on these findings allows identification and quantification of the potentially suitable areas for bears in Scandinavia. Additionally, this thesis presents novel improvements to home range estimation that enable realistic estimates of the effective area required for the bears to establish a home range. This is achieved through fitting to the radio-tracking data to establish the amount of temporal autocorrelation and the proportion of time spent in different habitat types. Together these form a basis for the landscape-level management of the expanding population. Successful management of bears requires also assessment of the consequences of harvest on the population viability. An individual-based simulation model, accounting for the sexually selected infanticide, was used to investigate the possibility of increasing the harvest using different hunting strategies, such as trophy harvest of males. The results indicated that the population can sustain twice the current harvest rate. However, harvest should be changed gradually while carefully monitoring the population growth as some effects of increased harvest may manifest themselves only after a time-delay.
The results and methodological improvements in this thesis can be applied to the Finnish bear population and to other large carnivores. They provide grounds for the further development of spatially-realistic management-oriented models of brow bear dynamics that can make projections of the future distribution of bears while accounting for the development of human activities.
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Last updated 21.11.2006