Genetic Diversity and Connectivity of Black Bears (Ursus americanus) in Alabama.
Type of DegreeMaster's Thesis
Forestry and Wildlife Science
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One of the major concerns in conservation today is the loss of genetic diversity which is a frequent consequence of population isolation and small population sizes. Fragmentation of populations and persecution of carnivores has posed a substantial threat to the persistence of free ranging carnivores in North America since the arrival of European settlers. Black bears have seen significant reductions in range size from their historic extent, which is most pronounced in the southeastern United States and even more starkly in Alabama where until recently bears were reduced to a single geographically isolated population in the Mobile River Basin. Recently a second population has naturally re-established itself in northeastern Alabama. We sought to determine size, genetic diversity and genetic connectivity for these two populations. Both populations of black bears in Alabama had small population sizes and had moderate to low genetic diversity, but showed different levels of connectivity to surrounding populations of bears. The Mobile River Basin population had a small population size at only 86 individuals (76-124, 95% C.I.), the lowest genetic diversity of compared populations (richness =2.33, Ho and He =0.33), and showed near complete genetic isolation from surrounding populations across multiple tests. The newly recolonizing population in northeastern Alabama had a small but growing population doubling in 3 years (34 individuals 26-43, 95% C.I.), relatively moderate genetic diversity compared to surrounding populations (richness = 3.32, Ho =0.53, He =0.65), and showed a high level of genetic connectivity with surrounding populations.