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Evidence for density-dependent effects on body composition of a large omnivore in a changing Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

June 1, 2023

Understanding the density-dependent processes that drive population demography in a changing world is critical in ecology, yet measuring performance–density relationships in long-lived mammalian species demands long-term data, limiting scientists' ability to observe such mechanisms. We tested performance–density relationships for an opportunistic omnivore, grizzly bears (Ursus arctos, Linnaeus, 1758) in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, with estimates of body composition (lean body mass and percent body fat) serving as indicators of individual performance over two decades (2000–2020) during which time pronounced environmental changes have occurred. Several high-calorie foods for grizzly bears have mostly declined in recent decades (e.g., whitebark pine [Pinus albicaulis, Engelm, 1863]), while increasing human impacts from recreation, development, and long-term shifts in temperatures and precipitation are altering the ecosystem. We hypothesized that individual lean body mass declines as population density increases (H1), and that this effect would be more pronounced among growing individuals (H2). We also hypothesized that omnivory helps grizzly bears buffer energy intake from changing foods, with body fat levels being independent from population density and environmental changes (H3). Our analyses showed that individual lean body mass was negatively related to population density, particularly among growing-age females, supporting H1 and partially H2. In contrast, population density or sex had little effect on body fat levels and rate of accumulation, indicating that sufficient food resources were available on the landscape to accommodate successful use of shifting food sources, supporting H3. Our results offer important insights into ecological feedback mechanisms driving individual performances within a population undergoing demographic and ecosystem-level changes. However, synergistic effects of continued climate change and increased human impacts could lead to more extreme changes in food availability and affect observed population resilience mechanisms. Our findings underscore the importance of long-term studies in protected areas when investigating complex ecological relationships in an increasingly anthropogenic world.

Publication Year 2023
Title Evidence for density-dependent effects on body composition of a large omnivore in a changing Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
DOI 10.1111/gcb.16759
Authors Andrea Corradini, Mark A. Haroldson, Francesca Cagnacci, Cecily M. Costello, Daniel D. Bjornlie, Daniel Thompson, Jeremy M. Nicholson, Kerry A. Gunther, Katharine R. Wilmot, Frank T. van Manen
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Global Change Biology
Index ID 70244117
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center