I investigated the exploitation of pocket gophers (Thomomys talpoides) by grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis) in the Yellowstone region of the United States with the use of data collected during a study of radiomarked bears in 1977-1992. My analysis focused on the importance of pocket gophers as a source of energy and nutrients, effects of weather and site features, and importance of pocket gophers to grizzly bears in the western contiguous United States prior to historical extirpations. Pocket gophers and their food caches were infrequent in grizzly bear feces, although foraging for pocket gophers accounted for about 20-25% of all grizzly bear feeding activity during April and May. Compared with roots individually excavated by bears, pocket gopher food caches were less digestible but more easily dug out. Exploitation of gopher food caches by grizzly bears was highly sensitive to site and weather conditions and peaked during and shortly after snowmelt. This peak coincided with maximum success by bears in finding pocket gopher food caches. Exploitation was most frequent and extensive on gently sloping nonforested sites with abundant spring beauty (Claytonia lanceolata) and yampah (Perdieridia gairdneri). Pocket gophers are rare in forests, and spring beauty and yampah roots are known to be important foods of both grizzly bears and burrowing rodents. Although grizzly bears commonly exploit pocket gophers only in the Yellowstone region, this behavior was probably widespread in mountainous areas of the western contiguous United States prior to extirpations of grizzly bears within the last 150 years.
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Exploitation of pocket gophers and their food caches by grizzly bears