Date of Award

2015

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Natural Resources

First Advisor

James D. Murdoch

Abstract

The black bear (Ursus americanus) is an iconic species with cultural, economic and ecological importance in Vermont, USA. Bears exhibit a highly variable diet, and few studies have described bear diet in the state. Information on diet may provide insight into foraging behavior, thus allowing managers to better assess patterns of human-bear conflict. My objectives were to estimate the relative contribution of food items to bear diet and how factors including sex, habitat, food availability, and nuisance status describe patterns of consumption. I collected samples from bears and major food groups including C3 plants, white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), corn (Zea mays), and human foods, then quantified diet using stable isotope analysis. Samples were collected from 71 bears, 547 plants, and 38 deer throughout Vermont. I also collected 12 corn samples, and 20 human hair samples to represent anthropogenic foods. I determined δ13C and δ15N isotope values for all samples, then used Bayesian mixing models to estimate the contribution of foods and effect of each factor on proportional contribution estimates. Nuisance status best described patterns of diet over other factors. Median percent contributions for non-nuisance bears were 73.2% C3 plants, 23.8% corn, 1.9% human foods, and 0.5% deer. Median percent contributions for nuisance bears were 64.6% C3 plants, 28.9% corn, 3.2% human foods, and 0.7% deer. Factors such as sex, habitat, and food availability exerted less effect on diet than expected. Proportional contribution of meat was lower than in some other parts of North America, suggesting bears forage differently in Vermont. Results provide the first statewide estimate of bear diet and indicate corn may represent a much larger component of diet than previously thought. In particular, bears labeled as nuisance animals may forage on greater proportions of corn throughout the year.

Language

en

Number of Pages

147 p.