The Ecology of Bear Damages

Project 2013/08/M/NZ9/00469 “The ecology of human-wildlife conflicts: disentagling the drivers of brown bear (Ursus arctos) damages at the biogeographical, population and individual level”

Project was financed by the National Science Centre, realised by the Institute of Nature Conservation PAS in Krakow. Project duration: 2013-2017.

Conflicts between wildlife and humans are a growing problem at the global scale. In spite of the considerable effort put in the last decades into conflict alleviation, the frequency of the conflicts appears to be on the increase in many areas. Tackling human-wildlife conflicts is, therefore, a critical challenge for conservation biologists. Human-wildlife conflicts are a complex ecological issue determined by multiple environmental factors acting at different scales and interlinked with management policies and socioeconomic factors. Fundamental to conflict reduction is understanding and predicting where and why conflicts occur. The general objective of this project is to improve our understanding of the ecology of human-wildlife conflicts, particularly of the factors that mediate damage-causing by animals at different scales. By taking the brown bear (Ursus arctos) as a model species and focusing on its damages, we aimed at disentangling the factors associated with damage occurrence at three different levels, corresponding to different research modules:

Biogeographical (among-population) level: We hypothesized that a spatial pattern in damage incidence exists across brown bear populations in Europe and that this is shaped by human factors, habitat characteristics and fluctuations in the availability of resources, and management policies.

Local (within-population) level: Human-wildlife conflicts do not occur randomly in the landscape, neither have the same intensity over time. We hypothesized that the availability of natural and anthropogenic food, climatic factors and habitat features affect the intensity of human-bear conflicts at the temporal and spatial scale.

Individual level: Animal personality and individual behavior are increasingly recognized to have an important role in species ecology and evolution. We expected that a fraction of “problem” individuals exist in the population, which is responsible for most damages. We also tested whether conflict behavior is gender-biased, kin-related or associated with a distinct diet and increased stress levels.