Mother bear knows best place to call home

Jan 22, 2013 by Bev Betkowski
Scott Nielsen holds one of the GPS radio collars his research team used to track 32 grizzly bears across 9,752 square kilometres in west-central Alberta. Credit: Richard Siemens

(Phys.org)—Mama bear appears to know what's best when it comes to selecting a place to call home, according to a new University of Alberta study.

The research, which may ultimately help protect Alberta's dwindling population of grizzly bears, is among the first of its kind to test the nature-versus-nurture debate on how large, free-ranging wildlife select habitat.

Lead author Scott Nielsen, assistant professor in the Department of Renewable Resources, and head researcher in the U of A's Applied Conservation Ecology (ACE) Lab, teamed with one of the lab's post-doctoral fellows, Aaron Shafer, and professor Mark Boyce of the Department of Biological Sciences for the four-year study.

Published in the latest issue of , their work explored whether the maternal rearing of cubs shaped which habitats grizzly bears eventually choose. The findings "suggest that habitat selection is learned by young grizzly bears from their mothers and would likely be a more adaptive strategy than using instinct," Nielsen said.

"There are a number of strategies that appear to be handed down from generation to generation from mother to offspring. It's the 'nurture' side of the equation that is shaping the life of the bear."

The study is part of ongoing work by Nielsen and a team of master's students and PhD candidates who study conservation issues related to species at risk, such as grizzlies, to help in their . Other current research includes work on lizards, otters, boreal and restoration of degraded ecosystems.

Through the ACE lab, U of A scientists are identifying critical habitats and needs of threatened species such as grizzlies, and determining the most effective management actions for their recovery.

The grizzly study, conducted in the foothills of west-central Alberta, tracked 32 adult and young grizzly bears that had been fitted with GPS radio collars. The animals' movements were monitored from 31,849 locations spanning 9,752 square kilometres.

Nielsen and his team observed that genetically related female bears shared habitat selection patterns regardless of their location, whereas male bears related to one another did not.

"This suggests that there are different habitat selection strategies used by and that these are learned early in life, because male bears don't participate in parental care," Nielsen said.

The grizzly is considered a threatened species in Alberta (there are fewer than 700 in the province), and if their habitat-use strategies are indeed learned from early experiences, "then the habitats chosen for relocation of 'problem' bears or to supplement threatened populations would be important," Nielsen said.

Knowing that is part of a learned behaviour, conservationists tasked with relocating bears far from the animals' known environments should pay close attention to the habitats into which they are released, he added.

Explore further: Hermit creepy crawlies: Two new taxa of wood-feeding cockroach from China

More information: www.plosone.org/article/info%3… journal.pone.0053721

Related Stories

Reducing roads could boost bear population

Oct 30, 2008

Alberta's scant grizzly bear population could grow by up to five per cent a year if fewer logging roads are built in the animals' habitat, according to University of Alberta researchers.

Studying grizzly bears' picnic

Oct 17, 2011

Armed with a coffee grinder and a lot of questions, a University of Alberta graduate student is uncovering the mysteries of a humble root that is vital to grizzly bear survival.

There's no such thing as a picky grizzly bear

Feb 22, 2007

A new University of Alberta study, which tracked eating habits of grizzly bears living in the Alberta foothills, sheds some light on the animal's varied diet and their activity pattern.

Grizzly bears feast on diverse diet

Feb 15, 2007

There’s no such thing as picky grizzly bears—they’ll eat almost anything they can find. A new University of Alberta study that tracked food habits of the Alberta grizzly bear living in the foothills sheds ...

Recommended for you

A vegetarian carnivorous plant

19 hours ago

Carnivorous plants catch and digest tiny animals in order and derive benefits for their nutrition. Interestingly the trend towards vegetarianism seems to overcome carnivorous plants as well. The aquatic carnivorous bladderwort, ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.