Dietary niche partitioning among black bears, grizzly bears, and wolves in a multiprey ecosystem


Jerod A. Merkle
Jean L. Polfus
Jonathan J. Debridge
Kimberly S. Heinemyer

Identifying mechanisms that promote coexistence of sympatric species is important for predicting ecological effects of anthropogenic change. Many caribou (Rangifer tarandus (L., 1758)) populations are declining, and it is unclear to what extent sympatric predators consume caribou or how alternative prey affect caribou–predator relationships. We used stable isotope mixing models to estimate diets of black bear (Ursus americanus Pallas, 1780), grizzly bear (Ursus arctos L., 1758), and grey wolves (Canis lupus L., 1758) during early, middle, and late summer of 2009–2010 in northwestern British Columbia, Canada. Although we expected wolf diet to be primarily composed of moose (Alces alces (L., 1758)) — as they exist at twice the density of caribou — wolf diet consisted principally of caribou, and to a lesser extent moose and beaver (Castor canadensis Kuhl, 1820), with little change occurring throughout summer. Black bear diet consisted mainly of vegetation and moose, shifting from moose to vegetation through summer. Grizzly bear diet consisted primarily of vegetation and moose, and did not change throughout summer. Our results demonstrate the role of dietary niche partitioning in bear and wolf coexistence, and that caribou may be primary prey for wolves in an ecosystem with relatively high moose abundance and low human development.


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Natural History Population Ecology Threatened and Endangered Species