Dietary plasticity in a nutrient-rich system does not influence brown bear (Ursus arctos) body condition or denning

Polar Biology
By: , and 

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Abstract

Behavioral differences within a population can allow use of a greater range of resources among individuals. The brown bear (Ursus arctos) is a generalist omnivore that occupies diverse habitats and displays considerable plasticity in food use. We evaluated whether brown bear foraging that resulted in deviations from a proposed optimal diet influenced body condition and, in turn, denning duration in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Alaska. To assess assimilated diet, we used sectioned guard hair samples (n = 23) collected in autumn to determine stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios. To index proportional contributions of meat and vegetation to assimilated diets, we compared the carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) values of hair samples with the values identified for major food categories. We then compared percentage body fat and body mass in relation to the proportion of assimilated meat in the diet using linear models. We also examined the influence of autumn percentage body fat and mass on denning duration. Percentage body fat was not influenced by the proportion of assimilated meat in the diet. Additionally, percentage body fat and body mass did not influence denning duration. However, body mass of bears assimilating proportionately more meat was greater than bears assimilating less meat. Our results provide support for previous findings that larger bears consume higher amounts of protein to maintain their body size and therefore forage further from the proposed optimal diet. Additionally, our results demonstrate that individuals can achieve similar biological outcomes (e.g., percentage body fat) despite variable foraging strategies, suggesting that individuals within generalist populations may confer an adaptive advantage through behavioral plasticity.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Dietary plasticity in a nutrient-rich system does not influence brown bear (Ursus arctos) body condition or denning
Series title Polar Biology
DOI 10.1007/s00300-017-2237-6
Volume 41
Issue 4
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher Springer
Contributing office(s) Alaska Science Center Biology MFEB
Description 10 p.
First page 763
Last page 772
Country United States
State Alaska