Mama Bear Knows Best When Picking Out Homes
January 22, 2013

Mama Bear Knows Best When Picking Out Homes

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

Husbands should be taking a clue from nature when it comes to looking for a home, as new research emerges that shows mama bear knows her stuff. Research published in the journal PLoS ONE has found that the mother bears know best when it comes to selecting a place to live.

The new University of Alberta study explored whether the rearing of cubs by their mothers shaped which habitats grizzly bears eventually choose.

Lead author Scott Nielsen, assistant professor in UofA's Department of Renewable Resources, said the findings "suggest that habitat selection is learned by young grizzly bears from their mothers, and would likely be a more adaptive strategy than using instinct."

The study is one of the first to test the nature verses nurture debate relative to how large, free-ranging wildlife select habitat, according to Nielsen.

Researchers spent four-years on the project in the foothills of west-central Alberta Canada, tracking 32 adult and young grizzly bears that had been fitted with GPS radio collars.

During the study, the animals' movements and habitats were monitored from 31,849 locations, over a range of 6,000 miles.

The team found that the genetically-related female bears shared habitat selection strategies, regardless of their location, while male bears related to one another did not.

"This suggests that there are different habitat selection strategies used by grizzly bears and that these are learned early in life, because male bears don't participate in parental care," Nielsen said in a statement.

The grizzly is considered a threatened species in Alberta, which hosts just fewer than 700 in the Canadian province. Nielsen said if their habitat-use strategies are learned from early experiences, then habitats chosen for relocation of "problem" bears or to supplement threatened populations would be important.

Conservationists can use this research when they relocate bears far from the animals' known environments. Knowing this information, they could pay close attention to the habitats in which they release the bears, according to Nielsen.

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Alberta Conservation Association and partners from the Foothills Research Institute Grizzly Bear Program helped fund this research.