Diet and morphology of extant and recently extinct northern bears




I examined the relationship of diets to skull morphology of extant northern bears and used this information to speculate on diets of the recently extinct cave (Ursus spelaeus) and short-faced (Arctodus simus) bears. Analyses relied upon published skull measurements and food habits of Asiatic (U. thibetanus) and American (U. americanus) black bears, polar bears (U. maritimus), various subspecies of brown bears (U. arctos), and the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca). Principal components analysis showed major trends in skull morphology related to size, crushing force, and snout shape. Giant pandas, short-faced bears, cave bears, and polar bears exhibited extreme features along these gradients. Diets of brown bears in colder, often non-forested environments were distinguished by large volumes of roots, foliage, and vertebrates, while diets of the 2 black bear species and brown bears occupying broadleaf forests contained greater volumes of mast and invertebrates and overlapped considerably. Fractions of fibrous foods in feces (foliage and roots) were strongly related to skull morphology (R2=0.97). Based on this relationship, feces of cave and short-faced bears were predicted to consist almost wholly of foliage, roots, or both. I hypothesized that cave bears specialized in root grubbing. In contrast, based upon body proportions and features of the ursid digestive tract, I hypothesized that skull features associated with crushing force facilitated a carnivorous rather than herbivorous diet for short-faced bears.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Diet and morphology of extant and recently extinct northern bears
Series title Ursus
Volume 10
Year Published 1998
Language English
Publisher International Association for Bear Research and Management
Contributing office(s) Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
Description 18 p.
First page 479
Last page 496
Public Comments Part of a Special Issue: A Selection of Papers from the Tenth International Conference on Bear Research and Management, Fairbanks, Alaska, July 1995, and Mora, Sweden, September 1995
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