Food Habits of Black Bears in Suburban versus Rural Alabama

Little is known about the food habits of black bears (Ursus americanus) in Alabama. A major concern is the amount of human influence in the diet of these bears as human and bear populations continue to expand in a finite landscape and bear-human interactions are increasing. To better understand dietary habits of bears, 135 scats were collected during late August to late November 2011-2014. Food items were classified into the categories of fruit, nuts/seeds, insects, anthropogenic, animal hairs, fawn bones, and other. Plant items were classified down to the lowest possible taxon via visual and DNA analysis as this category composed the majority of scat volumes. Frequency of occurrence was calculated for each food item. The most commonly occurring foods included: Nyssa spp. (black gum, 25.2%), Poaceae family (grass, 24.5%), Quercus spp. (acorn, 22.4%), and Vitis spp. (muscadine grape, 8.4%). Despite the proximity of these bear populations to suburban locations, during our sampling period we found that their diet primarily comprised vegetation, not anthropogenic food; while 100% of scat samples contained vegetation, only 19.6% of scat samples contained corn and no other anthropogenic food sources were detected. Based on a Fisherâ??s exact test, dietary composition did not differ between bears living in suburban areas compared to bears occupying more rural areas (P = 0.3891). Thus, bears in Alabama do not appear to be relying on humans for food, although further research and monitoring is warranted.

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