Authors: Vincenzo Penteriania (UMIB-CSIC), Cindy Lamamy, Ilpo Kojola, Samuli Heikkinen, Giulia Bombieri and María del Mar Delgado.
Article published on:Biological Conservation
Artificial food supplementation of wildlife is an increasing practice for species conservation, as well as for hunting and viewing tourism. Yet, our understanding of the implications of wildlife supplementary feeding is still very limited. Concerns have been raised over the potential negative impact of artificial feeding, but the effects of this practice on animal movements and rhythms of activity are just beginning to be investigated. Here, with the aim of studying whether the artificial feeding of brown bears may affect their behaviour, we analysed (1) the probability and intensity of feeding site use at different temporal scales, (2) how the use of artificial feeding sites is related to the bear’s age and sex, main periods of the bear’s annual cycle (i.e. mating and hyperphagia) and characteristics of the feeding sites, and (3) how the use of artificial feeding may be affecting bear movement patterns. We analysed the movements of 71 radio-collared brown bears in southern-central Finland and western Russian Karelia. Artificial feeding sites had several effects on brown bears in boreal habitats. The probability of a feeding site being used was positively correlated to the stability of this food resource over time, whereas sexes and bear classes (subadults, adults and females with cubs) did not show significant differences in the use of feeding sites, which were visited predominantly at night and slightly more during hyperphagia. The probability of using an artificial feeding site affected the daily net distance only (bears using feeding sites: 3.5 ± 4.5 km, range: 0–29 km; bears not using feeding sites: 4.4 ± 4.9 km, range: 0–47 km). Those brown bears using artificial feeding more intensively moved shorter distances at a lower speed within smaller home ranges compared to bears that used this food sources less. Highly predictable and continuously available anthropogenic food may therefore have substantial impacts on brown bear movement patterns, ecology and health. The recorded changes in movement patterns support the evidence that artificial feeding may have important implications for bear ecology and conservation.