Factors affecting date of implantation, parturition, and den entry estimated from activity and body temperature in free-ranging brown bears
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionFriebe, A., Evans, A., Arnemo, J. M., Blanc, S., Brunberg, S., Fleissner, G., . . . Zedrosser, A. (2014). Factors affecting date of implantation, parturition, and den entry estimated from activity and body temperature in free-ranging brown bears. PLoS ONE, 9(7). doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0101410 10.1371/journal.pone.0101410
Knowledge of factors influencing the timing of reproduction is important for animal conservation and management. Brown bears (Ursus arctos) are able to vary the birth date of their cubs in response to their fat stores, but little information is available about the timing of implantation and parturition in free-ranging brown bears. Body temperature and activity of pregnant brown bears is higher during the gestation period than during the rest of hibernation and drops at parturition. We compared mean daily body temperature and activity levels of pregnant and nonpregnant females during preimplantation, gestation, and lactation. Additionally we tested whether age, litter size, primiparity, environmental conditions, and the start of hibernation influence the timing of parturition. The mean date of implantation was 1 December (SD = 12), the mean date of parturition was 26 January (SD = 12), and the mean duration of the gestation period was 56 days (SD = 2). The body temperature of pregnant females was higher during the gestation and lactation periods than that of nonpregnant bears. The body temperature of pregnant females decreased during the gestation period. Activity recordings were also used to determine the date of parturition. The parturition dates calculated with activity and body temperature data did not differ significantly and were the same in 50% of the females. Older females started hibernation earlier. The start of hibernation was earlier during years with favorable environmental conditions. Dates of parturition were later during years with good environmental conditions which was unexpected. We suggest that free-ranging pregnant brown bears in areas with high levels of human activities at the beginning of the denning period, as in our study area, might prioritize investing energy in early denning than in early parturition during years with favorable environmental conditions, as a strategy to prevent disturbances caused by human.