Population fragmentation compromises population viability, reduces a species ability to respond to climate change, and ultimately may reduce biodiversity. We studied the current state and potential causes of fragmentation in grizzly bears over approximately 1,000,000 km2 of western Canada, the northern United States (US), and southeast Alaska. We compiled much of our data from projects undertaken with a variety of research objectives including population estimation and trend, landscape fragmentation, habitat selection, vital rates, and response to human development. Our primary analytical techniques stemmed from genetic analysis of 3,134 bears, supplemented with radiotelemetry data from 792 bears. We used 15 locus microsatellite data coupled with measures of genetic distance, isolation-by-distance (IBD) analysis, analysis of covariance (ANCOVA), linear multiple regression, multi-factorial correspondence analysis (to identify population divisions or fractures with no a priori assumption of group membership), and population-assignment methods to detect individual migrants between immediately adjacent areas. These data corroborated observations of inter-area movements from our telemetry database. In northern areas, we found a spatial genetic pattern of IBD, although there was evidence of natural fragmentation from the rugged heavily glaciated coast mountains of British Columbia (BC) and the Yukon. These results contrasted with the spatial pattern of fragmentation in more southern parts of their distribution. Near the Canada-US border area, we found extensive fragmentation that corresponded to settled mountain valleys and major highways. Genetic distances across developed valleys were elevated relative to those across undeveloped valleys in central and northern BC. In disturbed areas, most inter-area movements detected were made by male bears, with few female migrants identified. North-south movements within mountain ranges (Mts) and across BC Highway 3 were more common than east-west movements across settled mountain valleys separating Mts. Our results suggest that relatively distinct subpopulations exist in this region, including the Cabinet, Selkirk South, and the decades-isolated Yellowstone populations. Current movement rates do not appear sufficient to consider the subpopulations we identify along the Canada-US border as 1 inter-breeding unit. Although we detected enough male movement to mediate gene flow, the current low rate of female movement detected among areas is insufficient to provide a demographic rescue effect between areas in the immediate future (0-15 yr). In Alberta, we found fragmentation corresponded to major east-west highways (Highways 3, 11, 16, and 43) and most inter-area movements were made by males. Gene flow and movement rates between Alberta and BC were highest across the Continental Divide south of Highway 1 and north of Highway 16. In the central region between Highways 1 and 11, we found evidence of natural fragmentation associated with the extensive glaciers and icefields along the Continental Divide. The discontinuities that we identified would form appropriate boundaries for management units. We related sex-specific movement rates between adjacent areas to several metrics of human use (highway traffic, settlement, and human-caused mortality) to understand the causes of fragmentation. This analysis used data from 1,508 bears sampled over a 161,500-km2 area in southeastern BC, western Alberta, northern Idaho, and northern Montana during 1979-2007. This area was bisected by numerous human transportation and settlement corridors of varying intensity and complexity. We used multiple linear regression and ANCOVA to document the responses of female and male bears to disturbance. Males and females both demonstrated reduced movement rates with increasing settlement and traffic. However, females reduced their movement rates dramatically when settlement increased to >20% of the fracture zone. At this same threshold, male movement declined more gradually, in response to increased traffic and further settlement. In highly settled areas (>50%), both sexes had a similar reduction in movements in response to traffic, settlement, and mortality. We documented several small bear populations with male-only immigration, highlighting the importance of investigating sex-specific movements. Without female connectivity, small populations are not viable over the long term. The persistence of this regional female fragmented metapopulation likely will require strategic connectivity management. We therefore recommend enhancing female connectivity among fractured areas by securing linkage-zone habitat appropriate for female dispersal, and ensuring current large source subpopulations remain intact. The fragmentation we documented may also affect other species with similar ecological characteristics: sparse densities, slow reproduction, short male-biased dispersal, and a susceptibility to human-caused mortality and habitat degradation. Therefore, regional inter-jurisdictional efforts to manage broad landscapes for inter-area movement will likely benefit a broad spectrum of species and natural processes, particularly in light of climate change. © 2011 The Wildlife Society.
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