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Keywords:

  • Ursus americanus;
  • behaviour;
  • human-altered landscapes

Abstract

Many areas have experienced disproportionate increases in the number of conflicts between large carnivores and humans, and this is especially true in western North America where urban sprawl has encroached into regions that have historically contained large carnivores. Yet, globally there is a paucity of studies of temporal changes in behavioural and ecological parameters of carnivores associated with human-induced perturbations at the same location. We capitalized on the extent to which human population growth and its coincident food stores offer a quasi-experimental setting to test hypotheses about the impact of novel food resources. Using black bears Ursus americanus and garbage, measures of behaviour and ecology were contrasted between individuals living in urban–wildland interface (‘experimental’) and in wildland (‘control’) settings at the interface of the Sierra Nevada Range and the Great Basin Desert in the western United States. A temporal dimension was included by comparing our data to those from the same population lacking areas of human encroachment 10–15 years earlier. Specifically, an examination was made of the impacts of garbage on bear time budgets, patterns of activity, and den chronology. Individuals at urban interface areas relative to wildland conspecifics were: (1) active for significantly fewer h per day (8.5 vs 13.3 h; P<0.01); (2) shifted their activities to nocturnal periods (P<0.001); (3) entered dens significantly later and remained in them for significantly fewer days (P<0.05). Our results are contrasted with selected carnivores from sites where attendant changes in behaviour and ecology have accompanied landscape changes associated with human activity. Our findings suggest alterations in carnivore ecology may be rapid and occur within shorter periods than had been previously assumed.