Responses of American black bears to spring resources
Bowersock, Nathaniel R.
Litt, Andrea R.
Merkle, Jerod A.
Gunther, Kerry A.
van Manen, Frank T.
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In temperate regions of the world, food resources are seasonally limited, which causes some wildlife species to seek out nutrient-rich resources to better meet their caloric needs. Animals that utilize high-quality resources may reap fitness benefits as they prepare for mating, migration, or hibernation. American black bears (Ursus americanus) are omnivores that consume both plant and animal food resources to meet macronutrient needs. Black bears capitalize on high-quality food resources, such as soft mast in summer and hard mast during autumn, but we know less about the importance of resource quality during spring. Therefore, we sought to understand the relationship between the spatiotemporal variation in the availability of food and resource selection of black bears during spring. We also aimed to infer potential changes in foraging tactics, from opportunistic foraging to more active selection. Although black bears are described as opportunistic omnivores, we hypothesized they select areas with high-quality forage when available. We instrumented 7 black bears with GPS collars in 2017 and 2018 and estimated fine-scale resource selection with integrated step-selection functions. We found evidence that black bear movements were influenced by forage quality of vegetative food resources. However, we failed to find evidence that black bears actively alter their movements to take advantage of seasonal neonate elk. Although black bears represent a substantial cause of mortality for neonate elk, we found that black bears likely feed on neonates encountered opportunistically while traveling between patches of high-quality forage. Few studies have shown evidence of an omnivorous species capitalizing on spatiotemporal variation in forage quality, yet our data suggest this may be an important strategy for species with diverse diets, particularly where resources are seasonally limited.
Bowersock, N. R., A. R. Litt, J. A. Merkle, K. A. Gunther, and F. T. van Manen. 2021. Responses of Americanblack bears to spring resources. Ecosphere 12(11):e03773. 10.1002/ecs2.3773