Reproduction, Survival, and Denning Ecology of Black Bears in Southwestern Virginia


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Virginia Tech


Thirty-four (6 M, 28 F) of 93 black bears (Ursus americanus) captured during summers 1995 and 1996 were equipped with radio-collars. The mean age of male and females captured was 2.5 (n = 63; 2 males not aged) and 4.4 (n = 28) years, respectively. The mean date of females in estrus was 24 July, and we observed one 1.5-year old female in estrus. The average age of primiparity of radio-collared females was 3.0 years; however, we documented fetuses present in a 2-year old noncollared female's reproductive tract. The average interbirth interval was 1.6 years and 95.4% of females without yearlings produced cubs. The mean litter size was 2.2 and the cub sex ratio was 1.3M:1F.

Hunting, vehicle collisions, poaching, research, and euthanasia accounted for 80.5%, 5.5%, 5.5%, 5.5%, and 2.8%, respectively of the adult and juvenile male mortalities (n = 36). Hunting, vehicle collisions, and research each accounted for 2 of the adult and juvenile female mortalities (n = 6). Annual harvest rates for males in 1995 and 1996 were 36.1% and 45.5%, respectively; corresponding harvest rates for females were 0.0%, and 5.9%. Annual survival rates estimated with Kaplan-Meier for adult females, juvenile females, and cubs were 100.0%, 93.3%, and 70.3%, respectively. Maximum juvenile male survival rates were 52.0% in 1995 and 51.7% in 1996. Maximum adult male survival rates were 50.0% and 80.0% in 1995 and 1996, respectively.

We monitored 31 bears for 39 bear winters with 100% of the known bears denning. Bears denned in trees (41%), rock cavities (32%), excavations (14%), snags (8%), and ground nests (5%). Chestnut oak (Quercus prinus; n = 9), red oak (Q. rubra; n = 8), and tulip-poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera; n = 1) were used as tree dens. Habitat characteristics did not differ between ground dens and tree dens; however, older bears used ground dens more frequently (Z = -2.484, P = 0.013) than tree dens. Fifty-seven percent of bears denned on public land, and we documented one instance of den reuse.



Ursus americanus, George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, Exploited population, Population Dynamics