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Current Research

WRI is conducting the longest and most in-depth bear study ever done.  In recognizing this study as one of the four major studies of large mammals in the world, Harvard University Professor E. O. Wilson wrote, "A new level of resolution has been attained, in which free-ranging individuals are tracked from birth through socialization, parturition, and death, and their idiosyncrasies, personal alliances, and ecological relationships recorded in clinical detail." 

The research has produced over a hundred scientific publications—more than any other bear study.  The publications are among the most groundbreaking and most cited publications in bear literature according to the International Bear Association.  Awards include the Anna M. Jackson Award from the American Society of Mammalogists and the Quality Research Award from the U. S. Forest Service. 

WRI is doing unique research that requires longer commitment than usually is possible for graduate students or government agencies.  Some of the research topics require knowledge of kinship, which requires study over generations.  Other topics involve comparisons between years of good and poor natural food, which requires sample sizes of several years of good and poor food.  Other topics involve changes in habitat, which takes years of forest growth and/or housing development.   To observe bear behavior requires years to develop trusting relationships. 

As topics come to fruition, results will be published in scientific journals and shared with the public in books and as exhibits at the North American Bear Center.        

Research is focused on a matriarchal clan headed by a 18-year-old matriarch.  Radio-collared females in this clan hold territories between Ely and Tower and from the BWCAW to a couple miles south of Eagles Nest Lake Three.  10-15 females are radio-collared at any time.  Five of them have territories in Eagles Nest Township (Braveheart, Solo, June, Shadow, and RC).   

The studies are being done by volunteers in cooperation with Vermilion Community College, Antioch New England Graduate School (Graduate Student Sue Mansfield), and a network of local residents. 

Research topics are grouped as follows: 

Land tenure and social systems of black bears

  • The matriarchal social system of black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Establishment of territories by four generations of females from a clan of black bears in NE Minnesota 
  • Annual changes in territories of black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Effects of food supply (natural and supplemental) and kinship on social behavior, movements, and population growth of black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Grooming behavior and its relation to kinship and mating in black bears in NE Minnesota
  • How relationships change among black bear littermates in NE Minnesota
  • How relationships change between mothers and offspring in the years following family breakup by black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Variability in family breakup procedures of black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Effects of food supply on dispersal by juvenile male black bears from their mothers' territories in NE Minnesota
  • Relationships among four generations of females in a black bear clan in NE Minnesota  
  • Fighting behavior of black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Cannibalism and infanticide by black bears in NE Minnesota

Communication

  • Vocalizations and body language of black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Scent-marking behaviors of black bears in NE Minnesota

Daily and seasonal travel patterns

  • Seasonal changes in travel patterns of black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Seasonal changes in daily activity patterns of black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Effects of glacier movements on current travels of black bears in NE Minnesota 

Black bears and humans

  • Factors influencing conflict between humans and black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Responses of black bears to humans in NE Minnesota
  • Consequences of people feeding and habituating black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Causes of bear attacks and methods for avoiding attacks
  • Techniques for minimizing house break-ins by black bears
  • Does supplemental feeding change the social organization and land tenure system of black bears in NE Minnesota?
  • Does supplemental feeding introduce black bears to nuisance activity or act as a buffer against nuisance activity? 
  • Does unlimited high quality supplemental food make bears dependent upon it? 
  • Daily activities of black bears with access to unlimited high quality supplemental food
  • Does habituation to humans create nuisance bears? 
  • Effectiveness of bear-proof garbage containers in preventing access by black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Black bear responses to pepper spray and other aversive conditioning techniques in NE Minnesota
  • Can nuisance bears be deterred if attractants are reduced and aversive conditioning is practiced at nuisance locations?
  • Using a carrot and stick approach: is aversive conditioning more effective with diversionary food? 
  • Changes in attitudes with education about black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Survival tactics of mature males during hunting seasons in NE Minnesota
  • Aspects of black bear habituation to humans in NE Minnesota
  • Effects of supplemental feeding on home range size and travels of black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Safety in black bear country
  • Attacks and killings by black bears in North America
  • Methods for avoiding conflict with black bears in NE Minnesota

Food and weight

  • Seasonal changes in diets of black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Annual changes in diets of black bears in NE Minnesota  
  • Food preferences of black bears in NE Minnesota 
  • Daily food consumption by black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Consumption of toxic foods and foods of medicinal value by black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Seasonal changes in weight of black bears in NE Minnesota: how it differs with age and sex
  • Long distance movements to food supplies by black bears after changes in wind direction in NE Minnesota
  • How long range movements by black bears differ by age, sex, and season in NE Minnesota
  • Use of fish by black bears near Ely, Minnesota
  • Predatory behavior of black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Ant species selected by black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Detection of ant colonies by black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Differential digestion of food types and its effects on results of scat analyses
  • Responses of black bears to food shortages in NE Minnesota
  • Foraging patterns of black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Age-related changes in rate of weight gain by black bears in NE Minnesota

Reproduction

  • Courtship and mating activities of female black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Courtship and mating activities of male black bears in NE Minnesosta
  • Effects of food supply on age of first reproduction, litter size, and cub survival of black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Incest avoidance by black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Age-related changes in litter size and overall reproductive rate by black bears in NE Minnesota

Hibernation

  • Prehibernation activities of black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Seasonal changes in bedding behavior by black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Denning chronology by sex, age, weight, and reproductive status of black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Characteristics of black bear dens in NE Minnesota
  • Time spent in den construction: false starts, digging, and lining different types of dens. 
  • Den differences in relation to black bear age, sex, and reproductive status
  • Re-use of dens by black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Formation and elimination of the anal plug by hibernating black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Seasonal changes in heart rates and body temperature of black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Effects of body composition on hibernation behavior and physiology

Care and development of cubs

  • Parturition dates of black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Maternal care of newborn cubs in NE Minnesota
  • Maternal defense of cubs by black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Development of black bear cubs in NE Minnesota
  • Development of climbing ability by black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Early establishment of teat order by black bear cubs in NE Minnesota
  • Factors influencing milk production by female black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Seasonal changes in frequency of nursing by black bear cubs in NE Minnesota

Play

  • Age-related changes in play behavior of black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Effects of family breakup on play behavior in black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Seasonal and annual changes in play behavior
  • Use of tamarack saplings and other objects in the play behavior of black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Effects of food supply on play behavior of black bears in NE Minnesota

Morphology, Physiology, and Abilities

  • Sexual dimorphism of black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Hearing abilities of black bears
  • Seasonal and age-related changes in heart rate by black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Seasonal changes in body temperature of black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Temperature regulation in black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Color phases of black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Hair growth and molting patterns by black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Age-related changes in pelage of black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Navigation, orientation, and homing behavior by black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Relative weights of organs and other body parts of black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Age determination from dental patterns of black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Morphology of black bear dentition, tongue, and digestive tract: adaptations for omnivory
  • Walking and running speeds of black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Distribution of scent glands on black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Intelligence of black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Differences between black bear and grizzly bear behavior
  • Life expectancy of black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Parasites of black bears, their threats to humans, and how bears deal with parasite loads during hibernation

Sign

  • Interpreting bear sign in NE Minnesota.  Categories include tracks, scats, scent-marks, beds, and foraging sign.
  • Functions of tree-marking behavior by black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Selection of marking trees by black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Social marking behavior and how it differs with age, sex, and season in NE Minnesota
  • Differences in tree-biting behavior between male and female black bears in NE Minnesota

Habitat

  • Use of mature white pines by mothers with cubs in NE Minnesota
  • Habitat selection by black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Forest management practices that benefit black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Seed dispersal by black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Effects of weather on habitat selection by black bears in NE Minnesota

Responses to environmental factors

  • Responses of black bears to predators, reptiles, biting insects, rain, sun, hail, heat, humidity, cold, and wind in NE Minnesota.
  • Responses of black bears to natural and manmade sights and sounds that are potential disturbances to black bears in NE Minnesota.

Research methods

  • Factors limiting accuracy of telemetry locations of black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Methods for obtaining ecological data of black bears in NE Minnesota
  • Methods for radio-collaring black bears without tranquilizers in NE Minnesota

Networking

In addition to local research, WRI networks with researchers and organizations across North America to compare behavior, habitat, and methods for dealing with bear-human conflict.