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1.  Big data in wildlife research: remote web-based monitoring of hibernating black bears 
BMC Physiology  2014;14(1):13.
Numerous innovations for the management and collection of “big data” have arisen in the field of medicine, including implantable computers and sensors, wireless data transmission, and web-based repositories for collecting and organizing information. Recently, human clinical devices have been deployed in captive and free-ranging wildlife to aid in the characterization of both normal physiology and the interaction of animals with their environment, including reactions to humans. Although these devices have had a significant impact on the types and quantities of information that can be collected, their utility has been limited by internal memory capacities, the efforts required to extract and analyze information, and by the necessity to handle the animals in order to retrieve stored data.
We surgically implanted miniaturized cardiac monitors (1.2 cc, Reveal LINQ™, Medtronic Inc.), a newly developed human clinical system, into hibernating wild American black bears (N = 6). These devices include wireless capabilities, which enabled frequent transmissions of detailed physiological data from bears in their remote den sites to a web-based data storage and management system. Solar and battery powered telemetry stations transmitted detailed physiological data over the cellular network during the winter months. The system provided the transfer of large quantities of data in near-real time. Observations included changes in heart rhythms associated with birthing and caring for cubs, and in all bears, long periods without heart beats (up to 16 seconds) occurred during each respiratory cycle.
For the first time, detailed physiological data were successfully transferred from an animal in the wild to a web-based data collection and management system, overcoming previous limitations on the quantities of data that could be transferred. The system provides an opportunity to detect unusual events as they are occurring, enabling investigation of the animal and site shortly afterwards. Although the current study was limited to bears in winter dens, we anticipate that future systems will transmit data from implantable monitors to wearable transmitters, allowing for big data transfer on non-stationary animals.
PMCID: PMC4277652  PMID: 25496699
American black bear; Hibernation physiology; Heart rate; Implantable cardiac monitor; Wireless data transmission
2.  Monitoring the wild black bear's reaction to human and environmental stressors 
BMC Physiology  2011;11:13.
Bears are among the most physiologically remarkable mammals. They spend half their life in an active state and the other half in a state of dormancy without food or water, and without urinating, defecating, or physical activity, yet can rouse and defend themselves when disturbed. Although important data have been obtained in both captive and wild bears, long-term physiological monitoring of bears has not been possible until the recent advancement of implantable devices.
Insertable cardiac monitors that were developed for use in human heart patients (Reveal® XT, Medtronic, Inc) were implanted in 15 hibernating bears. Data were recovered from 8, including 2 that were legally shot by hunters. Devices recorded low heart rates (pauses of over 14 seconds) and low respiration rates (1.5 breaths/min) during hibernation, dramatic respiratory sinus arrhythmias in the fall and winter months, and elevated heart rates in summer (up to 214 beats/min (bpm)) and during interactions with hunters (exceeding 250 bpm). The devices documented the first and last day of denning, a period of quiescence in two parturient females after birthing, and extraordinary variation in the amount of activity/day, ranging from 0 (winter) to 1084 minutes (summer). Data showed a transition toward greater nocturnal activity in the fall, preceding hibernation. The data-loggers also provided evidence of the physiological and behavioral responses of bears to our den visits to retrieve the data.
Annual variations in heart rate and activity have been documented for the first time in wild black bears. This technique has broad applications to wildlife management and physiological research, enabling the impact of environmental stressors from humans, changing seasons, climate change, social interactions and predation to be directly monitored over multiple years.
PMCID: PMC3177774  PMID: 21849079
Electrophysiology; Hibernation; Cardiac Physiology
3.  The Shared Preference Niche of Sympatric Asiatic Black Bears and Sun Bears in a Tropical Forest Mosaic 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(1):e14509.
Ecologically similar species often coexist by partitioning use of habitats or resources. Such partitioning can occur through divergent or shared niches. We investigated overlap in habitat use and spatial co-occurrence by sympatric Asiatic black bears and sun bears in three habitats in Thailand, and thereby assessed which niche model best accounts for their coexistence.
Methods/Principal Findings
We used density of species-specific signs to assess habitat use. Signs of both bear species occurred in all three habitats, and on >60% of sampling transects. Both species fed mostly on fruit; insect feeding signs were uncommon, and were mostly from sun bears. Significant differences in habitat use occurred only in montane forest, the habitat in which fruit was most abundant; incidence of black bear sign there was six times higher than that of sun bears. Habitat use was similar between the two species in the other habitats, which comprised 85% of the area. Of 10 habitat attributes examined, fruiting tree density was the best predictor of occurrence for both species. Models that included interspecific competition (fresh foraging activity of the other species) were less supported than the top models without competition.
Bear species co-occurrence at both coarse and fine spatial scales and use of the same resources (fruit trees) indicated common niche preferences. However, their habitat use differed in ways expected from their physical differences: larger black bears dominated in the most fruit-rich habitat, and smaller sun bears used less-preferred insects. These results indicate broadly overlapping fundamental niches combined with asymmetric competition—features consistent with the concept of shared preference niches. This model of the niche has received little attention in ecology, but appears to be relatively common in nature.
PMCID: PMC3024313  PMID: 21283792
4.  A Quantitative Ecological Risk Assessment of the Toxicological Risks from Exxon Valdez Subsurface Oil Residues to Sea Otters at Northern Knight Island, Prince William Sound, Alaska 
A comprehensive, quantitative risk assessment is presented of the toxicological risks from buried Exxon Valdez subsurface oil residues (SSOR) to a subpopulation of sea otters (Enhydra lutris) at Northern Knight Island (NKI) in Prince William Sound, Alaska, as it has been asserted that this subpopulation of sea otters may be experiencing adverse effects from the SSOR. The central questions in this study are: could the risk to NKI sea otters from exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in SSOR, as characterized in 2001–2003, result in individual health effects, and, if so, could that exposure cause subpopulation-level effects? We follow the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) risk paradigm by: (a) identifying potential routes of exposure to PAHs from SSOR; (b) developing a quantitative simulation model of exposures using the best available scientific information; (c) developing scenarios based on calculated probabilities of sea otter exposures to SSOR; (d) simulating exposures for 500,000 modeled sea otters and extracting the 99.9% quantile most highly exposed individuals; and (e) comparing projected exposures to chronic toxicity reference values. Results indicate that, even under conservative assumptions in the model, maximum-exposed sea otters would not receive a dose of PAHs sufficient to cause any health effects; consequently, no plausible toxicological risk exists from SSOR to the sea otter subpopulation at NKI.
PMCID: PMC2938330  PMID: 20862194
ecological risk assessment; sea otter; Enhydra lutris; Exxon Valdez oil spill; subsurface oil residues; stochastic simulation modeling; conceptual exposure modeling; polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
5.  Integrated Population Modeling of Black Bears in Minnesota: Implications for Monitoring and Management 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(8):e12114.
Wildlife populations are difficult to monitor directly because of costs and logistical challenges associated with collecting informative abundance data from live animals. By contrast, data on harvested individuals (e.g., age and sex) are often readily available. Increasingly, integrated population models are used for natural resource management because they synthesize various relevant data into a single analysis.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We investigated the performance of integrated population models applied to black bears (Ursus americanus) in Minnesota, USA. Models were constructed using sex-specific age-at-harvest matrices (1980–2008), data on hunting effort and natural food supplies (which affects hunting success), and statewide mark–recapture estimates of abundance (1991, 1997, 2002). We compared this approach to Downing reconstruction, a commonly used population monitoring method that utilizes only age-at-harvest data. We first conducted a large-scale simulation study, in which our integrated models provided more accurate estimates of population trends than did Downing reconstruction. Estimates of trends were robust to various forms of model misspecification, including incorrectly specified cub and yearling survival parameters, age-related reporting biases in harvest data, and unmodeled temporal variability in survival and harvest rates. When applied to actual data on Minnesota black bears, the model predicted that harvest rates were negatively correlated with food availability and positively correlated with hunting effort, consistent with independent telemetry data. With no direct data on fertility, the model also correctly predicted 2-point cycles in cub production. Model-derived estimates of abundance for the most recent years provided a reasonable match to an empirical population estimate obtained after modeling efforts were completed.
Integrated population modeling provided a reasonable framework for synthesizing age-at-harvest data, periodic large-scale abundance estimates, and measured covariates thought to affect harvest rates of black bears in Minnesota. Collection and analysis of these data appear to form the basis of a robust and viable population monitoring program.
PMCID: PMC2920827  PMID: 20711344

Results 1-5 (5)