Bears and berries: species-specific selective foraging on a patchily distributed food resource in a human-altered landscape.
ABSTRACT: When animals are faced with extraordinary energy-consuming events, like hibernation, finding abundant, energy-rich food resources becomes particularly important. The profitability of food resources can vary spatially, depending on occurrence, quality, and local abundance. Here, we used the brown bear (Ursus arctos) as a model species to quantify selective foraging on berries in different habitats during hyperphagia in autumn prior to hibernation. During the peak berry season in August and September, we sampled berry occurrence, abundance, and sugar content, a proxy for quality, at locations selected by bears for foraging and at random locations in the landscape. The factors determining selection of berries were species specific across the different habitats. Compared to random locations, bears selected locations with a higher probability of occurrence and higher abundance of bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus) and a higher probability of occurrence, but not abundance, of lingonberries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea). Crowberries (Empetrum hermaphroditum) were least available and least used. Sugar content affected the selection of lingonberries, but not of bilberries. Abundance of bilberries at random locations decreased and abundance of lingonberries increased during fall, but bears did not adjust their foraging strategy by increasing selection for lingonberries. Forestry practices had a large effect on berry occurrence and abundance, and brown bears responded by foraging most selectively in mature forests and on clearcuts. This study shows that bears are successful in navigating human-shaped forest landscapes by using areas of higher than average berry abundance in a period when abundant food intake is particularly important to increase body mass prior to hibernation.Food resources heterogeneity, caused by spatial and temporal variation of specific foods, poses a challenge to foragers, particularly when faced with extraordinary energy-demanding events, like hibernation. Brown bears in Sweden inhabit a landscape shaped by forestry practices. Bilberries and lingonberries, the bears' main food resources in autumn prior to hibernation, show different temporal and habitat-specific ripening patterns. We quantified the bears' selective foraging on these berry species on clearcuts, bogs, young, and mature forests compared to random locations. Despite a temporal decline of ripe bilberries, bears used locations with a greater occurrence and abundance of bilberries, but not lingonberries. We conclude that bears successfully navigated in this heavily human-shaped landscape by selectively foraging in high-return habitats for bilberries, but did not compensate for the decline in bilberries by eating more lingonberries.
Project description:Forest management alters habitat characteristics, resulting in various effects among and within species. It is crucial to understand how habitat alteration through forest management (e.g. clearcutting) affects animal populations, particularly with unknown future conditions (e.g. climate change). In Sweden, brown bears (Ursus arctos) forage on carpenter ants (Camponotus herculeanus) during summer, and may select for this food source within clearcuts. To assess carpenter ant occurrence and brown bear selection of carpenter ants, we sampled 6999 coarse woody debris (CWD) items within 1019 plots, of which 902 were within clearcuts (forests ?30 years of age) and 117 plots outside clearcuts (forests >30 years of age). We related various CWD and site characteristics to the presence or absence of carpenter ant galleries (nests) and bear foraging sign at three spatial scales: the CWD, plot, and clearcut scale. We tested whether both absolute and relative counts (the latter controlling for the number of CWD items) of galleries and bear sign in plots were higher inside or outside clearcuts. Absolute counts were higher inside than outside clearcuts for galleries (mean counts; inside: 1.8, outside: 0.8). CWD was also higher inside (mean: 6.8) than outside clearcuts (mean: 4.0). However, even after controlling for more CWD inside clearcuts, relative counts were higher inside than outside clearcuts for both galleries (mean counts; inside: 0.3, outside: 0.2) and bear sign (mean counts; inside: 0.03, outside: 0.01). Variables at the CWD scale best explained gallery and bear sign presence than variables at the plot or clearcut level, but bear selection was influenced by clearcut age. CWD circumference was important for both carpenter ant and bear sign presence. CWD hardness was most important for carpenter ant selection. However, the most important predictor for bear sign was the presence or absence of carpenter ant galleries. Bears had a high foraging "success" rate (?88%) in foraging CWD where galleries also occurred, which was assessed by summing CWD items with the concurrence of bear sign and galleries, divided by the sum of all CWD with bear sign. Clearcuts appeared to increase the occurrence of a relatively important summer food item, the carpenter ant, on Swedish managed forests for the brown bear. However, the potential benefit of this increase can only be determined from a better understanding of the seasonal and interannual variation of the availability and use of other important brown bear food items, berries (e.g. Vaccinium myrtillus and Empetrum spp.), as well as other primary needs for bears (e.g. secure habitat and denning habitat), within the landscape mosaic of managed forests.
Project description:Objective. The aim of the study was to screen eight species of berries for their ability to prevent obesity and metabolic abnormalities associated with type 2 diabetes. Methods. C57BL/6J mice were assigned the following diets for 13 weeks: low-fat diet, high-fat diet or high-fat diet supplemented (20%) with lingonberry, blackcurrant, bilberry, raspberry, açai, crowberry, prune or blackberry. Results. The groups receiving a high-fat diet supplemented with lingonberries, blackcurrants, raspberries or bilberries gained less weight and had lower fasting insulin levels than the control group receiving high-fat diet without berries. Lingonberries, and also blackcurrants and bilberries, significantly decreased body fat content, hepatic lipid accumulation, and plasma levels of the inflammatory marker PAI-1, as well as mediated positive effects on glucose homeostasis. The group receiving açai displayed increased weight gain and developed large, steatotic livers. Quercetin glycosides were detected in the lingonberry and the blackcurrant diets. Conclusion. Lingonberries were shown to fully or partially prevent the detrimental metabolic effects induced by high-fat diet. Blackcurrants and bilberries had similar properties, but to a lower degree. We propose that the beneficial metabolic effects of lingonberries could be useful in preventing obesity and related disorders.
Project description:Studying diet is fundamental to animal ecology and scat analysis, a widespread approach, is considered a reliable dietary proxy. Nonetheless, this method has weaknesses such as non-random sampling of habitats and individuals, inaccurate evaluation of excretion date, and lack of assessment of inter-individual dietary variability. We coupled GPS telemetry and scat analyses of black bears Ursus americanus Pallas to relate diet to individual characteristics and habitat use patterns while foraging. We captured 20 black bears (6 males and 14 females) and fitted them with GPS/Argos collars. We then surveyed GPS locations shortly after individual bear visits and collected 139 feces in 71 different locations. Fecal content (relative dry matter biomass of ingested items) was subsequently linked to individual characteristics (sex, age, reproductive status) and to habitats visited during foraging bouts using Brownian bridges based on GPS locations prior to feces excretion. At the population level, diet composition was similar to what was previously described in studies on black bears. However, our individual-based method allowed us to highlight different intra-population patterns, showing that sex and female reproductive status had significant influence on individual diet. For example, in the same habitats, females with cubs did not use the same food sources as lone bears. Linking fecal content (i.e., food sources) to habitat previously visited by different individuals, we demonstrated a potential differential use of similar habitats dependent on individual characteristics. Females with cubs-of-the-year tended to use old forest clearcuts (6-20 years old) to feed on bunchberry, whereas females with yearling foraged for blueberry and lone bears for ants. Coupling GPS telemetry and scat analyses allows for efficient detection of inter-individual or inter-group variations in foraging strategies and of linkages between previous habitat use and food consumption, even for cryptic species. This approach could have interesting ecological implications, such as supporting the identification of habitats types abundant in important food sources for endangered species targeted by conservation measures or for management actions for depredating animals.
Project description:Human foods have become a pervasive subsidy in many landscapes, and can dramatically alter wildlife behavior, physiology, and demography. While such subsidies can enhance wildlife condition, they can also result in unintended negative consequences on individuals and populations. Seasonal hibernators possess a remarkable suite of adaptations that increase survival and longevity in the face of resource and energetic limitations. Recent work has suggested hibernation may also slow the process of senescence, or cellular aging. We investigated how use of human foods influences hibernation, and subsequently cellular aging, in a large-bodied hibernator, black bears (Ursus americanus). We quantified relative telomere length, a molecular marker for cellular age, and compared lengths in adult female bears longitudinally sampled over multiple seasons. We found that bears that foraged more on human foods hibernated for shorter periods of time. Furthermore, bears that hibernated for shorter periods of time experienced accelerated telomere attrition. Together these results suggest that although hibernation may ameliorate cellular aging, foraging on human food subsidies could counteract this process by shortening hibernation. Our findings highlight how human food subsidies can indirectly influence changes in aging at the molecular level.
Project description:Avoiding predators most often entails a food cost. For the Scandinavian brown bear (Ursus arctos), the hunting season coincides with the period of hyperphagia. Hunting mortality risk is not uniformly distributed throughout the day, but peaks in the early morning hours. As bears must increase mass for winter survival, they should be sensitive to temporal allocation of antipredator responses to periods of highest risk. We expected bears to reduce foraging activity at the expense of food intake in the morning hours when risk was high, but not in the afternoon, when risk was low. We used fine-scale GPS-derived activity patterns during the 2 weeks before and after the onset of the annual bear hunting season. At locations of probable foraging, we assessed abundance and sugar content, of bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), the most important autumn food resource for bears in this area. Bears decreased their foraging activity in the morning hours of the hunting season. Likewise, they foraged less efficiently and on poorer quality berries in the morning. Neither of our foraging measures were affected by hunting in the afternoon foraging bout, indicating that bears did not allocate antipredator behavior to times of comparably lower risk. Bears effectively responded to variation in risk on the scale of hours. This entailed a measurable foraging cost. The additive effect of reduced foraging activity, reduced forage intake, and lower quality food may result in poorer body condition upon den entry and may ultimately reduce reproductive success.
Project description:Species' distributions are influenced by a combination of landscape variables and biotic interactions with other species, including people. Grizzly bears and black bears are sympatric, competing omnivores that also share habitats with human recreationists. By adapting models for multi-species occupancy analysis, we analyzed trail camera data from 192 trail camera locations in and around Jasper National Park, Canada to estimate grizzly bear and black bear occurrence and intensity of trail use. We documented (a) occurrence of grizzly bears and black bears relative to habitat variables (b) occurrence and intensity of use relative to competing bear species and motorised and non-motorised recreational activity, and (c) temporal overlap in activity patterns among the two bear species and recreationists. Grizzly bears were spatially separated from black bears, selecting higher elevations and locations farther from roads. Both species co-occurred with motorised and non-motorised recreation, however, grizzly bears reduced their intensity of use of sites with motorised recreation present. Black bears showed higher temporal activity overlap with recreational activity than grizzly bears, however differences in bear daily activity patterns between sites with and without motorised and non-motorised recreation were not significant. Reduced intensity of use by grizzly bears of sites where motorised recreation was present is a concern given off-road recreation is becoming increasingly popular in North America, and can negatively influence grizzly bear recovery by reducing foraging opportunities near or on trails. Camera traps and multi-species occurrence models offer non-invasive methods for identifying how habitat use by animals changes relative to sympatric species, including humans. These conclusions emphasise the need for integrated land-use planning, access management, and grizzly bear conservation efforts to consider the implications of continued access for motorised recreation in areas occupied by grizzly bears.
Project description:The present study aimed to investigate the nutritional aspects of the bear diet quantitatively, in order to understand plant food selection in spring. Bears were observed directly from April to July in 2013 and 2014, to visually recognize plant species consumed by bears, and to describe the foraging period in the Ashio-Nikko Mountains, central Japan. Leaves were collected from eight dominant tree species, regardless of whether bears fed on them in spring, and their key nutritional components analyzed: crude protein (CP), neutral detergent fiber (NDF), and total energy. Bears tended to consume fresh leaves of specific species in May, and nutritional analysis revealed that these leaves had higher CP and lower NDF than other non-food leaves. However, CP in consumed leaves gradually decreased, and NDF increased from May to July, when the bears' food item preference changed from plant materials to ants. Bears may consume tree leaves with high CP and low NDF after hibernation to rebuild muscle mass.
Project description:The interaction between brown bears (Ursus arctos) and Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) is important to the population dynamics of both species and a celebrated example of consumer-mediated nutrient transport. Yet, much of the site-specific information we have about the bears in this relationship comes from observations at a few highly visible but unrepresentative locations and a small number of radio-telemetry studies. Consequently, our understanding of brown bear abundance and behavior at more cryptic locations where they commonly feed on salmon, including small spawning streams, remains limited. We employed a noninvasive genetic approach (barbed wire hair snares) over four summers (2012-2015) to document patterns of brown bear abundance and movement among six spawning streams for sockeye salmon, O. nerka, in southwestern Alaska. The streams were grouped into two trios on opposite sides of Lake Aleknagik. Thus, we predicted that most bears would forage within only one trio during the spawning season because of the energetic costs associated with swimming between them or traveling around the lake and show fidelity to particular trios across years because of the benefits of familiarity with local salmon dynamics and stream characteristics. Huggins closed-capture models based on encounter histories from genotyped hair samples revealed that as many as 41 individuals visited single streams during the annual 6-week sampling season. Bears also moved freely among trios of streams but rarely moved between these putative foraging neighborhoods, either during or between years. By implication, even small salmon spawning streams can serve as important resources for brown bears, and consistent use of stream neighborhoods by certain bears may play an important role in spatially structuring coastal bear populations. Our findings also underscore the efficacy of noninvasive hair snagging and genetic analysis for examining bear abundance and movements at relatively fine spatial and temporal scales.
Project description:When reducing activity and using stored energy during seasonal food shortages, animals risk degradation of skeletal muscles, although some species avoid or minimize the resulting atrophy while experiencing these conditions during hibernation. Polar bears may be food deprived and relatively inactive during winter (when pregnant females hibernate and hunting success declines for other demographic groups) as well as summer (when sea ice retreats from key foraging habitats). We investigated muscle atrophy in samples of biceps femoris collected from free-ranging polar bears in the Southern Beaufort Sea (SBS) throughout their annual cycle. Atrophy was most pronounced in April-May as a result of food deprivation during the previous winter, with muscles exhibiting reduced protein concentration, increased water content, and lower creatine kinase mRNA. These animals increased feeding and activity in spring (when seal prey becomes more available), initiating a period of muscle recovery. During the following ice melt of late summer, ~30% of SBS bears abandon retreating sea ice for land; in August, these 'shore' bears exhibited no muscle atrophy, indicating that they had fully recovered from winter food deprivation. These individuals subsequently scavenged whale carcasses deposited by humans and by October, had retained good muscle condition. In contrast, ~70% of SBS bears follow the ice north in late summer, into deep water with less prey. These 'ice' bears fast; by October, they exhibited muscle protein loss and rapid changes in myosin heavy-chain isoforms in response to reduced activity. These findings indicate that, unlike other bears during winter hibernation, polar bears without food in summer cannot mitigate atrophy. Consequently, prolonged summer fasting resulting from climate change-induced ice loss creates a risk of greater muscle atrophy and reduced abilities to travel and hunt.
Project description:Berries and vegetables are potential transmission vehicles for eggs of pathogenic parasites, such as Echinococcus spp. We developed a SYBR Green based semi-quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR) method for detection of Echinococcus multilocularis and Echinococcus canadensis DNA from berry samples. A set of primers based on the mitochondrial NADH dehydrogenase subunit 1 (nad1) gene was designed and evaluated. To assess the efficacy of the assay, we spiked bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus) with a known amount of E. multilocularis eggs. The detection limit for the assay using the NAD1_88 primer set was 4.37?×?10-5?ng/?l of E. multilocularis DNA. Under artificial contamination of berries, 50 E. multilocularis eggs were reliably detected in 250?g of bilberries. Analytical sensitivity of the assay was determined to be 100% with three eggs. As an application of the assay, 21 bilberry samples from Finnish market places and 21 bilberry samples from Estonia were examined. Previously described sieving and DNA extraction methods were used, and the samples were analyzed for E. multilocularis and E. canadensis DNA using semi-quantitative real-time PCR and a melting curve analysis of the amplified products. Echinococcus DNA was not detected in any of the commercial berry samples. This easy and fast method can be used for an efficient detection of E. multilocularis and E. canadensis in bilberries or other berries, and it is applicable also for fruits and vegetables.