Plasticity in physiological condition of female brown bears across diverse ecosystems

Polar Biology
By: , and 



Variation in life history strategies facilitates the near global distribution of mammals by expanding realized niche width. We investigated physiological plasticity in the spring body composition of adult female brown bears (Ursus arctos) across 4 diverse Alaskan ecosystems. Brown bears are a highly intelligent omnivore with a historic range spanning much of North America, Europe, and Asia. We hypothesized that body mass, fat mass, lean mass, and total caloric content would increase across populations with increasing food resource availability. Throughout their range, brown bears enter a period of torpor during winter months, decreasing their metabolic rate as an adaptation to this period of reduced food availability. They also give birth to and nourish offspring during this time. Due to this specific life history strategy, we further hypothesized that proportional body fat and the proportion of total calories derived from fat would be consistent across populations. Our results supported our first hypothesis: body, fat, and lean masses, and caloric content of bears across populations increased with the quality and abundance of available food. However, the proportional body fat content and proportion of calories from fat differed across populations indicating population-specific strategies to meet the demands of reduced seasonal food availability, offspring production and rearing, and climate as well as some plasticity to respond to environmental change or ecosystem perturbations. Investigations of body condition and energetics benefit from combined assessments of absolute, proportional, and caloric metrics to understand the nuances of brown bear physiological dynamics across and within populations.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Plasticity in physiological condition of female brown bears across diverse ecosystems
Series title Polar Biology
DOI 10.1007/s00300-017-2238-5
Volume 41
Issue 4
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher Springer
Contributing office(s) Alaska Science Center Biology MFEB
Description 8 p.
First page 773
Last page 780
Country United States
State Alaska
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