Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

The natural food habits of grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park, 1973-74

April 1, 1980

 The natural food habits of grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis Ord) in Yellowstone National Park were investigated in 1973-74 to identify the grizzly's energy sources and trophic level(s), nutrient use, and distribution. Food consumption was determined by scat analysis and field observations. Food quality and digestibility were estimated by chemical analysis. Grizzlies were distributed in 3 distinctive feeding economies: valley/plateau, a grass/rodent economy where grizzlies were intensive diggers; mountain, primarily a grass/springbeauty/root economy where grizzlies were casual diggers; and lake, primarily a fish/grass economy where grizzlies were fishers. The economies occurred in areas with fertile soils; distribution of bears within each was related to the occurrence of succulent plants. The feeding cycle in the valley/plateau and mountain economies followed plant phenology. Grizzlies fed primarily on meat before green-up and on succulent herbs afterwards; meat, corms, berries, and nuts became important during the postgrowing season. Succulent grasses and sedges with an importance value percentage of 78.5 were the most important food items consumed. Protein from animal tissue was more digestible than protein from plant tissue. Storage fats were more digestible than structural fats. Food energy and digestibility were directly related. Five principle nutrient materials (listed with their percentage digestibilities) contributed to total energy intake: protein from succulent herbs, 42.8; protein and fat from animal material, 78.1; fat and protein from pine nuts, 73.6; starch, 78.8; and sugar from berries and fruits, digestibility undetermined. Protein from succulent herbs, with a nutritive value percentage of 77.3, was the grizzlies' primary energy source. Because succulent, preflowering herbs had higher protein levels than dry, mature herbs, grizzly use of succulent herbs guaranteed them the highest source of herbaceous protein. Low protein digestibility of succulent herbs was compenstated for by high intake. Grizzlies were digestively flexible and maximized use of protein from plant and animal sources. They were adapted to the most constant and abundant sources of protein: succulent herbs and animal material from open, fertile grasslands. Competition among grizzlies for animal food during the pregrowing season may be regulatory for the grizzly population. The grizzly population level can be partially accounted for by the grizzlies' status as secondary consumers during pregreen-up periods and primary consumers during the growing and postgrowing seasons. The essential environmental requirement was the availability of fertile grasslands and herblands interspersed with cover and capable of maintaining artiodactyls, rodents, and abundant nutritious herbs as sources of food.

Publication Year 1980
Title The natural food habits of grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park, 1973-74
Authors Stephen Patrick Mealey
Publication Type Book Chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Index ID 70169341
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center