Bears and berries: species-specific selective foraging on a patchily distributed food resource in a human-altered landscape

Anne G. Hertel, Sam M. J. G. Steyaert, Andreas Zedrosser, Atle Mysterud, Hanna K. Lodberg-Holm, Henriette Wathne Gelink, Jonas Kindberg, Jon E. Swenson in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology


When animals are faced with extraordinary energy-consuming events, like hibernation, finding abundant, energy-rich food resources becomes particularly important. The profitability of food resources can vary spatially, depending on occurrence, quality, and local abundance. Here, we used the brown bear (Ursus arctos) as a model species to quantify selective foraging on berries in different habitats during hyperphagia in autumn prior to hibernation. During the peak berry season in August and September, we sampled berry occurrence, abundance, and sugar content, a proxy for quality, at locations selected by bears for foraging and at random locations in the landscape. The factors determining selection of berries were species specific across the different habitats. Compared to random locations, bears selected locations with a higher probability of occurrence and higher abundance of bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus) and a higher probability of occurrence, but not abundance, of lingonberries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea). Crowberries (Empetrum hermaphroditum) were least available and least used. Sugar content affected the selection of lingonberries, but not of bilberries. Abundance of bilberries at random locations decreased and abundance of lingonberries increased during fall, but bears did not adjust their foraging strategy by increasing selection for lingonberries. Forestry practices had a large effect on berry occurrence and abundance, and brown bears responded by foraging most selectively in mature forests and on clearcuts. This study shows that bears are successful in navigating human-shaped forest landscapes by using areas of higher than average berry abundance in a period when abundant food intake is particularly important to increase body mass prior to hibernation.

First online: 31 March 2016
DOI: 10.1007/s00265-016-2106-2

Tags: Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology;
Published May 12, 2016 10:24 AM - Last modified May 12, 2016 10:24 AM