Use of Whitebark Pine (Pinus albicaulis) seeds by GPS-collared Grizzly Bears (Ursus arctos) in Banff National Park, Alberta
Keywords:Banff National Park, Grizzly Bear, midden, Pinus albicaulis, Red Squirrel, seeds, Tamiasciurus hudsonicus, Ursus arctos, Whitebark Pine
Seeds of Whitebark Pine (Pinus albicaulis) are a major food for Grizzly Bears (Ursus arctos) in the Yellowstone ecosystem. In Canada, Grizzly Bears are known to eat Whitebark Pine seeds, but little additional information, such as the extent of such use and habitat characteristics of feeding sites, is available. Because Grizzly Bears almost always obtain Whitebark Pine seeds by excavating cones from persistent caching sites (middens) made by Red Squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus), it is possible to infer Whitebark Pine feeding when bears are located near excavated middens in Whitebark Pine stands. During 2013–2018, I conducted a retrospective study in Banff National Park using data from 23 Grizzly Bears equipped by Parks Canada staff with global positioning system (GPS) collars. My objectives were to use GPS fixes to determine the percentage of these bears that had been located in close proximity to excavated middens containing Whitebark Pine seeds and to describe the habitat at these excavated middens. I linked 15 bears (65%) to excavated middens and, by inference, consumption of Whitebark Pine seeds. Excavated middens occurred on high-elevation (mean 2103 ± 101 [SD] m), steep (mean 26° ± 8°) slopes facing mostly (96%) north through west (0–270°). Use of Whitebark Pine seeds by at least 65% of the 23 studied Grizzly Bears suggests that conservation of Whitebark Pine in Banff National Park would concomitantly benefit the at-risk population of Grizzly Bears.
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