Population dynamics and denning ecology of black bears in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

During 1982-85, population dynamics and denninq ecology of black bears (Ursus americanus) were investigated in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. Foot snares and culvert traps were used to capture 115 bears a total of 149 times. Radio transmitter collars were fitted to 47 bears. The age structure of the bears captured was indicative of an exploited population. The minimum breeding age of females was 2 years, but 3 years was the modal age. Mean litter size determined by cub counts was 2.0 and females usually bred every second year. Annual mortality rates were estimated at 30% for cubs, 54% for yearlings, 39% for 2-year olds, and 21.5% for older bears. Radio collared adult males had an annual mortality rate of 41.5%, over 5-fold that of adult females (7.5%). Bear density was estimated at 1 bear/0.96-1.49 km'. This high density was explained in part by the difference in male and female mortality rates. The estimated rate of population increase indicated that the population was stable.

The most common den types were rock cavities (29 of 61) and above-ground tree cavities (19 of 61). Males did not den in tree cavities. Den sites were not selected for forest type, aspect, or elevation, but ground slope was greater at den sites (P < 0.001) than at random points. Among- and within-year differences in dates of den entry, den emergence, and parturition were unrelated to weather and hard mast production.