Spatial patterns in brown bear Ursus arctos diet: the role of geographical and environmental factors



  • 1We reviewed worldwide spatial patterns in the food habits of the brown bear Ursus arctos in relation to geographical (latitude, longitude, altitude) and environmental (temperature, snow cover depth and duration, precipitation, primary productivity) variables.
  • 2We collected data from 28 studies on brown bear diet based on faecal analysis, covering the entire geographical range of this widely distributed large carnivore. We analysed separately four data sets based on different methods of diet assessment.
  • 3Temperature and snow conditions were the most important factors determining the composition of brown bear diet. Populations in locations with deeper snow cover, lower temperatures and lower productivity consumed significantly more vertebrates, fewer invertebrates and less mast. Trophic diversity was positively correlated with temperature, precipitation and productivity but negatively correlated with the duration of snow cover and snow depth. Brown bear populations from temperate forest biomes had the most diverse diet. In general, environmental factors were more explicative of diet than geographical variables.
  • 4Dietary spatial patterns were best revealed by the relative biomass and energy content methods of diet analysis, whereas the frequency of occurrence and relative biomass methods were most appropriate for investigating variation in trophic diversity.
  • 5Spatial variation in brown bear diet is the result of environmental conditions, especially climatic factors, which affect the nutritional and energetic requirements of brown bears as well as the local availability of food. The trade-off between food availability on the one hand, and nutritional and energetic requirements on the other hand, determines brown bear foraging decisions. In hibernating species such as the brown bear, winter severity seems to play a role in determining foraging strategies. Large-scale reviews of food habits should be based on several measures of diet composition, with special attention to those methods reflecting the energetic value of food.