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Rub tree use and selection by American black bears and grizzly bears in northern Yellowstone National Park

June 7, 2022

Several of the world's bear species exhibit tree-rubbing behavior, which is thought to be a form of scent-marking communication. Many aspects of this behavior remain unexplored, including differences in rub tree selection between sympatric bear species. We compiled rub tree data collected on Yellowstone National Park's Northern Range (USA) and compared rub tree selection of sympatric American black bears (Ursus americanus) and grizzly bears (U. arctos) at local and landscape scales. During 2017 and 2018, we identified 217 rub trees and detected black bears at 117 rub trees and grizzly bears at 18 rub trees, based on genetic analysis of collected hair samples. Rub trees generally were located in areas with gentle slopes and close to existing animal trails. Trees selected by black bears were typically in forested areas, whereas trees selected by grizzly bears were in forested and more open areas. Use of rub trees varied seasonally and between sexes for black bears, but seasonal data were inconclusive for grizzly bears. Black bears showed preferences for certain tree species for rubbing, but we did not find evidence that rub tree selection by grizzly bears differed among tree species. Both bear species selected trees that lacked branches on the lower portions of tree trunks and the maximum rub height was consistent with the body length of the bear species that used the tree. Although the sample size for grizzly bears was small, identifying the species and sex of bears based on genetic analysis enhanced interpretation of rub tree use and selection by bears. Scent-marking by black bears and grizzly bears on similar rub objects in well-traversed areas likely serves to enhance communication within and between the 2 species.

Publication Year 2022
Title Rub tree use and selection by American black bears and grizzly bears in northern Yellowstone National Park
DOI 10.2192/URSUS-D-21-00009.3
Authors Nathaniel R. Bowersock, H. Okada, Andrea R. Litt, Kerry A. Gunther, Frank T. van Manen
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ursus
Index ID 70232145
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center