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The Ecological Role of Large Mammals in the Forests of Kentucky and the Eastern United States: Implications for Conservation
Department of Forestry
Large mammal conservation and restoration present many challenges to the public, land owners, and wildlife managers. This research focuses on the role of large native mammals in the natural landscapes of the eastern U.S. and the development of recommendations for their conservation and restoration. This work will require a detailed understanding of the current large mammal communities in Kentucky and elsewhere in the southeastern U.S., and an evaluation of the importance of the faunal and landscape changes of the last two centuries relative to the restoration of biodiversity in the region.
2010 Project Description
Large mammal research in my lab continues on the ecology, conservation, and management of large mammals, with most work focused on the black bear in Florida and Kentucky, and the elk in Kentucky. We continue to focus on the ecological role of both species, their interaction with human societies, and each species unique management and conservation needs.
With renewed state funding, we have expanded our research on bears in Kentucky to include population ecology studies in an additional area. Additionally, we continue to monitor a number of female bears in southeast Kentucky to examine differences between nuisance and non-nuisance individuals, and the impact of that behavior on survival, resource use patterns, and fecundity. Bear research in both areas were the subject of 2 poster and 2 oral presentations at the state and national chapter annual meeting of The Wildlife Society. In addition, our bear research was the subject of a television segment on WLEX news in Lexington, KY, and a longer segment on Kentucky Afield, a popular program on Kentucky Education Television. At least two newspaper articles in McCreary County also focused on our bear research.
In Florida, we received state funding to conduct a 3-year population study of bears in Highlands and Glades Counties subsequently initiated in summer 2010. In addition, we received additional GPS data from 3 radio-collared bears from a highly urbanized area of central Florida that identified potential pathways that land managers and other stakeholders can use to help maintain ecological connectivity for bears and others species in this highly biodiverse region. The bear research in this area was the subject of a book on Florida's cattle ranches and an upcoming article in Audubon magazine. The bear research is a popular and important topic of classroom discussion in several natural resource courses here at the University of Kentucky, as well as a field-based opportunity whereby undergraduate and graduate students can get hands on experience in researching large mammals and better understanding the issues surrounding bear management and conservation.
In eastern Kentucky we received a 2-year grant to initiate a demographic study of bull elk, one of the more difficult population segments to study that is also the most economically valuable for local hunting-based tourism in an historically economically impoverished region. This and past work on elk were the subject of an oral presentation and published paper for a regional forestry meeting that examined the issues surrounding this growing elk population and its potential ecological and sociological implications. An article appeared in Highlights kids magazine that showcased what it was like to work on our elk project.
Finally, work being conducted by a doctoral student (shared with another principal investigator here at UK) has resulted in a better understanding of brucellosis infection in bison in Yellowstone National Park, and one peer-reviewed published paper so far. This work continues as a collaborative project between the University of Kentucky and the National Park Service.
Our research findings have impacted a variety of stakeholders within Kentucky and beyond. Detailed GPS-based movement data have provided a foundation for new analytical approaches that is changing the way black bear and other large mammal telemetry data are collected, interpreted, and analyzed. These intensive data sets have allowed us to begin to analyze telemetry data using more modern analytical approaches that should yield a more accurate representation and further our understanding of certain aspects of animal ecology, such as movement and resource use patterns. We continue to refine our understanding of the limitations and potential applications of these GPS data. The use of the text message-based data transmitting technologies in these new collars clearly indicate their advantage over more manually intensive location and data recovery procedures.
Our research findings continue to inform both professional and public audiences about these ecologically and economically important large mammal species, as manifested in articles and program segments that appeared in a variety of media outlets this year. Research on black bear in both Florida and Kentucky have provided important demographic, resource and habitat use, and movement data valuable to and used by wildlife and other natural resource managers and land stewards.
Our black bear and elk research in Kentucky continues to help guide state wildlife managers with important decisions on these species that is often informationally transferred to the general public though a variety of mechanisms. In south-central Florida, our black bear data has been used by local land planners to inform short and long-term land planning, as well as by the state wildlife agency for management of the species. We continue identifying important core and dispersal habitat for the imperiled bear population in south central Florida, including locations bears use to cross highways and thereby maintain demographic connectivity.
The bear and elk research are popular and important case studies of large mammal management and conservation used for classroom discussion and field trips in several natural resource courses here at the University of Kentucky. Students of a variety of ages and the general public are eager to learn more about the charismatic elk and bear through our dissemination of research findings, particularly when educational outlets allow direct observations of these species. Such opportunities can and have motivated students and the members of the public to pursue studies in natural resource management, stimulated additional inquiry into the natural world and sustainability, and encouraged thinking about our role in the natural world. It's likely that the Highlights Magazine article on our elk research probably reached millions of grade school children.
The management of Yellowstone bison is one of the most controversial topics in the conservation and wildlife communities. Findings from our research are informing future decisions that will likely have a major impact on bison management, including vaccination and culling of individuals outside Yellowstone National Park.
Cox, J.J. 2010. Tales of a repatriated megaherbivore: challenges and opportunities for management of reintroduced elk in Appalachia. Proceedings of the 17th Central Hardwood Forest Conference. In press.
Treanor, J., J. Johnson, R. Wallen, S. Cilles, P.H. Crowley, J.J. Cox, D.S. Maehr, P.J. White, and G. Plumb. 2010. Vaccination strategies for managing brucellosis in Yellowstone bison. Vaccine 28F:F64-72.
Hast, J. 2010. Genetic diversity, structure, and recolonization patterns of Kentucky black bears. M.S. Thesis. University of Kentucky.
Risch, D. 2010. Andrea the elk spotter. Highlights Magazine. November 2010. (note that much of the information in the article was written by a former graduate student who helped with the elk research)