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Foraging strategies by omnivores: are black bears actively searching for ungulate neonates or are they simply opportunistic predators?

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Omnivores feed on animals with dynamic distributions and on plants with static distributions. The search tactics they adopt will not only define the risk for the targeted prey, but also for other prey that may be consumed when encountered. The potential impact of omnivores on the dynamics of multi‐prey systems thus depends on resource selection and on the tactics used to find their prey. We present an approach that can clarify the foraging decisions of omnivores by combining analyses of habitat selection, local residency time, and interpatch movements. We use this framework to evaluate whether predation by omnivorous black bears on ungulate neonates resulted from an active search or from incidental encounters. We monitored 12 bears, 22 forest‐dwelling caribou, and 36 moose during calving seasons. We estimated the spatial patterns in relative occurrence probability of ungulate neonates using Resource Selection Functions (RSFs). We also mapped plant abundance from vegetation surveys. RSF were then built to assess the link between bear distribution and the distribution of these three food types (vegetation, moose calves, caribou fawns). We further evaluated the search tactic used by bears that led to this spatial dependency by exploring patterns of residency times and interpatch movements. Bears did not select areas with a high probability of encounter with neonates, but selected areas with abundant vegetation. Surprisingly, bears displayed shorter residency times in vegetation‐rich areas. The selection for vegetation‐rich areas was therefore achieved by moving preferentially, but frequently, between areas offering abundant vegetation. Such frequent interpatch movements could result in high rates of fortuitous encounters with neonates, even if bears are not actively searching for them. To mitigate the impacts of forest harvesting on threatened caribou populations, vegetation‐rich areas selected by bears (e.g. roadsides) should be segregated from large patches of mature conifer forest suitable for caribou.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 2011

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