The fundamental niche of a species is rarely if ever realized because the presence of other species restricts it to a narrower range of ecological conditions. The effects of this narrower range of conditions define how resources are partitioned. Resource partitioning has been inferred but not demonstrated previously for sympatric ursids. We estimated assimilated diet in relation to body condition (body fat and lean and total body mass) and reproduction for sympatric brown bears (Ursus arctos) and American black bears (U. americanus) in southcentral Alaska, 1998-2000. Based on isotopic analysis of blood and keratin in claws, salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) predominated in brown bear diets (>53% annually) whereas black bears assimilated 0-25% salmon annually. Black bears did not exploit salmon during a year with below average spawning numbers, probably because brown bears deterred black bear access to salmon. Proportion of salmon in assimilated diet was consistent across years for brown bears and represented the major portion of their diet. Body size of brown bears in the study area approached mean body size of several coastal brown bear populations, demonstrating the importance of salmon availability to body condition. Black bears occurred at a comparable density (mass:mass), but body condition varied and was related directly to the amount of salmon assimilated in their diet. Both species gained most lean body mass during spring and all body fat during summer when salmon were present. Improved body condition (i.e., increased percentage body fat) from salmon consumption reduced catabolism of lean body mass during hibernation, resulting in better body condition the following spring. Further, black bear reproduction was directly related to body condition; reproductive rates were reduced when body condition was lower. High body fat content across years for brown bears was reflected in consistently high reproductive levels. We suggest that the fundamental niche of black bears was constrained by brown bears through partitioning of food resources, which varied among years. Reduced exploitation of salmon caused black bears to rely more extensively on less reliable or nutritious food sources (e.g., moose [Alces alces], berries) resulting in lowered body condition and subsequent reproduction. ?? 2006 by the Ecological Society of America.
Additional publication details
Interspecific resource partitioning in sympatric ursids