Phenology of brown bear breeding season and related geographical cues
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionEuropean Zoological Journal. 2020, 87 (1), 552-558. 10.1080/24750263.2020.1801866
Knowledge about breeding biology is often incomplete in species with complex reproductive strategies. The brown bear Ursus arctos is a polygamous seasonal breeder inhabiting a wide variety of habitats and environmental conditions. We compiled information about brown bear breeding season dates from 36 study areas across their distribution range in the Palearctic and Nearctic regions and investigated how their breeding phenology relates to geographical factors (latitude, photoperiod, altitude, and region). Brown bear mating were observed for 8 months, from April to November, with a peak in May–July. We found a 59-day difference in the onset of bear breeding season among study areas, with an average 2.3-day delay for each degree of latitude northwards. The onset of the breeding season showed a strong relationship with photoperiod and latitude, but not with region (i.e., Palearctic vs Nearctic) and altitude. First observations of bear mating occurred earlier in areas at lower latitudes. Photoperiod ranged between 14 and 18 hours at the beginning of the season for most of the study areas. The duration of the breeding season ranged from 25 to 138 days among study areas. None of the investigated factors was related to the length of the breeding season. Our results support the relevance of photoperiod to the onset of breeding, as found in other ursids, but not a shorter breeding season at higher latitudes, a pattern reported in other mammals. Our findings suggest a marked seasonality of bear reproductive behavior, but also certain level of plasticity. Systematic field observations of breeding behavior are needed to increase our knowledge on the factors determining mating behavior in species with complex systems and how these species may adapt to climate change.