2021 journal article

Growth and reproduction by young urban and rural black bears

JOURNAL OF MAMMALOGY, 102(4), 1165–1173.

co-author countries: United States of America 🇺🇸
author keywords: black bears; litter size; mast production; primiparity; reproductive ecology; urban wildlife; Ursus americanus
Source: Web Of Science
Added: September 7, 2021

Abstract Human-dominated landscapes contain fragmented natural land cover interspersed throughout an urban matrix. Animals that occupy human-dominated landscapes often grow and reproduce differently than conspecifics. Female American black bears (Ursus americanus) produce litters for the first time usually at age 4 years; 2-year-olds rarely give birth. We visited winter bear dens and trapped bears in spring and summer to compare the reproductive output and weight of female black bears within the city limits of Asheville, North Carolina, and three forested rural sites in North Carolina and Virginia representative of the undeveloped habitat of Asheville. Urban yearling females weighed nearly double (45.0 kg ± 8.1 [± SD]; n = 36) that of yearling females from the three rural study sites (23.2 ± 8.5 [Pisgah], 23.6 ± 8.3 [Virginia SW], and 23.9 ± 9.7 [Virginia NW]; n = 95). Across all sites, hard mast production during the autumn, when females were cubs, did not affect their weights as yearlings. Seven of 12 (58%) 2-year-old urban bears produced 11 cubs (mean litter size = 1.6 ± 0.8), but no 2-year-old rural females produced cubs. Production of hard mast in the autumn, when females were yearlings, did not influence cub production by 2-year-old female bears at the urban site. We hypothesize that reproduction by 2-year-old bears is linked to the availability of anthropogenic food sources associated with urban environments. To inform population level management decisions, managers and researchers should quantify urban food sources and the effects on black bear life history. If high fecundity allows urban populations to sustain relatively high mortality rates, then urban bear populations may be source populations for surrounding, rural areas. Alternately, if reproduction in urban populations cannot match high time-specific or age-specific urban mortality rates, then urban populations may be sinks for the surrounding areas.