Date of Award
Master of Science
Ecotourism is a rapidly growing industry worldwide and has been used as a tool that can promote conservation. While ecotourism can serve as a mechanism to help conserve natural areas, increases in visitors present challenges for managers tasked with balancing conservation goals while ensuring positive visitor experiences. As such, managers and ecologists are increasingly using fecal cortisol metabolites (FCMs) to index stress associated with ecotourism. In this study, I sought to (1) quantify the relationship between blood cortisol levels and FCM concentrations in brown bears (Ursus arctos), and (2) evaluate whether ecotourism elicits a measurable stress response in a free-ranging brown bears. For my first objective, I conducted an adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) challenge on nine captive brown bears at the Washington State University Bear Research, Education, and Conservation Center to quantify the relationship between blood cortisol and FCM concentrations. For my second objective, I collected fecal samples from three designated bear viewing sites (Chinitna Bay, Shelter Creek, Silver Salmon Creek) across Lake Clark National Park and Preserve with variable ecotourism. I found that peak FCM concentrations occurred between 10h-27h following ACTH challenge. Additionally, I found no significant difference in average FCM among sites; however, bears at Chinitna Bay exhibited high variable in FCM concentrations, which may be a result of unpredictable human-interaction due to conflicting rules across land jurisdictions. This study highlights the importance of consistent bear viewing practices across bear viewing areas, providing bears with predictable human-bear interactions.
Pinero, Justin A., "FECAL CORTISOL METABOLITES: A NON-INVASIVE METHOD FOR MONITORING THE LONG-TERM HEALTH OF FREE RANGING BROWN BEARS" (2023). All NMU Master's Theses. 739.