Data from: Linking GPS telemetry surveys and scat analyses helps explain variability in black bear foraging strategies
Lesmerises, Rémi; Rebouillat, Lucie; Dussault, Claude; St-Laurent, Martin-Hugues (2016), Data from: Linking GPS telemetry surveys and scat analyses helps explain variability in black bear foraging strategies, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.75r70
Studying diet is fundamental to animal ecology and scat analysis, a widespread approach, is considered a reliable dietary proxy. Nonetheless, this method has weaknesses such as non-random sampling of habitats and individuals, inaccurate evaluation of excretion date, and lack of assessment of inter-individual dietary variability. We coupled GPS telemetry and scat analyses of black bears Ursus americanus Pallas to relate diet to individual characteristics and habitat use patterns while foraging. We captured 20 black bears (6 males and 14 females) and fitted them with GPS/Argos collars. We then surveyed GPS locations shortly after individual bear visits and collected 139 feces in 71 different locations. Fecal content (relative dry matter biomass of ingested items) was subsequently linked to individual characteristics (sex, age, reproductive status) and to habitats visited during foraging bouts using Brownian bridges based on GPS locations prior to feces excretion. At the population level, diet composition was similar to what was previously described in studies on black bears. However, our individual-based method allowed us to highlight different intra-population patterns, showing that sex and female reproductive status had significant influence on individual diet. For example, in the same habitats, females with cubs did not use the same food sources as lone bears. Linking fecal content (i.e., food sources) to habitat previously visited by different individuals, we demonstrated a potential differential use of similar habitats dependent on individual characteristics. Females with cubs-of-the-year tended to use old forest clearcuts (6–20 years old) to feed on bunchberry, whereas females with yearling foraged for blueberry and lone bears for ants. Coupling GPS telemetry and scat analyses allows for efficient detection of inter-individual or inter-group variations in foraging strategies and of linkages between previous habitat use and food consumption, even for cryptic species. This approach could have interesting ecological implications, such as supporting the identification of habitats types abundant in important food sources for endangered species targeted by conservation measures or for management actions for depredating animals.