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Mama bear knows best, University of Alberta study shows

University of Alberta

Mama bear appears to know best when it comes to selecting a place to call home, according to a new University of Alberta study.

The study, published in the latest issue of PLOS ONE, explored whether the rearing of cubs by their mothers shaped which habitats grizzly bears eventually choose.

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," said lead author Scott Nielsen, assistant professor in the U of A Department of Renewable Resources.

The University of Alberta study is among the first of its kind to test the 'nature versus nurture' debate relative to how large, free-ranging wildlife select habitat, Nielsen noted.

The four-year research project, conducted in the foothills of west-central Alberta, Canada, tracked 32 adult and young grizzly bears that had been fitted with GPS radio collars. The animals' movements and habitats were monitored from 31,849 locations spanning 9,752 kilometres.

The researchers observed that 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.

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


The research was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Alberta Conservation Association and partners from the Foothills Research Institute Grizzly Bear Program.

For more information on the study contact:
Assistant Professor Scott Nielsen
Department of Renewable Resources
Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences
University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada

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