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Bear Presence and Dispersal in South Florida Wildlife Corridor

Genetic analysis has revealed that the Highlands/Glades (H/G) black bear subpopulation in south-central Florida has historically been genetically isolated from neighboring subpopulations. A study conducted in 10 years later found that abundance, genetic diversity, and immigration were still low, likely due to the high degree of habitat fragmentation in the area. Increased immigration from other nearby subpopulations would likely improve genetic diversity.

The Big Cypress (BC) subpopulation, located south of the H/G subpopulation, is a potential source of immigrating individuals. A recent update to bear range in Florida found a gap between these two subpopulations where bear occurrences are less, even though suitable habitat remains. This portion of the estimated bear range used vehicle collisions and other opportunistic data that could be affected by the rural nature of the area (lower traffic volumes, fewer residences to report sightings or conflicts, etc.) For this reason, FWC biologists sought to actively search for bear presence in this area, which this project calls the Big Cypress- Highlands/Glades dispersal corridor, to determine if the gap is from a lack of data or appropriately labeled due to lower use.  It could also provide information about dispersal.

Bears captured 2021-2023 by FWC staff for the Big Cypress Demographics Study received two colored ear tags unique to each individual.  Using cameras to document presence in the BC-H/G dispersal corridor could also resight some of these marked bears.  Such northward dispersal could indicate the potential for natural immigration toward or into the H/G subpopulation.

In November 2021, FWC staff deployed ~50 camera traps on both public and private land throughout the H/G-BC dispersal corridor to document bear presence. These cameras will monitor activity for at least 3 years, mirroring the field work in the Big Cypress Demographics Study. Researchers also collaborated with a several people who were monitoring additional cameras in the area, providing bear observations from ~184 sites.  Researchers will also check the Black Bear Sightings website for observations of tagged bears in this dispersal corridor submitted by members of the public.

Map showing locations of camera traps reporting bear observations within the Big Cypress- Highlands/Glades dispersal corridor. Camera locations are represented as ~50 blue squares for FWC Bear Research and ~135 gray squares for cameras of cooperative research Partners. The current bear range for this area, published in 2023, is displayed as Frequent, Common, and Occasional occurrences to show the ~ 10-mile-wide gap between the two neighboring Common ranges.

Locations of camera traps maintained by the Bear Research Program and research partners.