Understanding metapopulation dynamics in large carnivores with naturally fragmented populations is difficult because of the large temporal and spatial context of such dynamics. We coupled a long-term database of visitor sighting records with an intensive 3-year telemetry study to describe population dynamics of recolonization by black bears (Ursus americanus) of Big Bend National Park in Texas during 1988–2002. This population, which occurs within a metapopulation in western Texas and northern Mexico, increased from a single pair of known breeding-age animals in 1988 to 29 bears (including 6 females of breeding age) in March 2000 (λ = 1.25/year). A migration and dispersal event in August–December 2000 reduced the population to 2 adult females and as few as 5–7 individuals. One-way movement distances from the study area during this event averaged 76 km for females (n = 7) and 92 km for males (n = 4), and 3 animals conducted migrations of at least 154, 178, and 214 km, respectively. Our observations exemplify the importance of stochastic events on demographics of small populations and highlight the potential scale of bear movement among montane islands of southwestern North America. They also provide insight into the use of dispersal data in parameterizing metapopulation models for large carnivores.
Hellgren, Eric C., Onorato, Dave P. and Skiles, J R. "Dynamics of a Black Bear Population within a Desert Metapopulation." (Mar 2005).