The ecology of human-carnivore coexistence

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2020 Jul 28;117(30):17876-17883. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1922097117. Epub 2020 Jul 6.


With a shrinking supply of wilderness and growing recognition that top predators can have a profound influence on ecosystems, the persistence of large carnivores in human-dominated landscapes has emerged as one of the greatest conservation challenges of our time. Carnivores fascinate society, yet these animals pose threats to people living near them, resulting in high rates of carnivore death near human settlements. We used 41 y of demographic data for more than 2,500 brown bears-one of the world's most widely distributed and conflict-prone carnivores-to understand the behavioral and demographic mechanisms promoting carnivore coexistence in human-dominated landscapes. Bear mortality was high and unsustainable near people, but a human-induced shift to nocturnality facilitated lower risks of bear mortality and rates of conflict with people. Despite these behavioral shifts, projected population growth rates for bears in human-dominated areas revealed a source-sink dynamic. Despite some female bears successfully reproducing in the sink areas, bear persistence was reliant on a supply of immigrants from areas with minimal human influence (i.e., wilderness). Such mechanisms of coexistence reveal a striking paradox: Connectivity to wilderness areas supplies bears that likely will die from people, but these bears are essential to avert local extirpation. These insights suggest carnivores contribute to human-carnivore coexistence through behavioral and demographic mechanisms, and that connected wilderness is critical to sustain coexistence landscapes.

Keywords: coadaptation; demography; grizzly bear; source-sink; wilderness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carnivora*
  • Ecology*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Ursidae / genetics