Main content area

Courtship of brown bears Ursus arctos in northern Spain: phenology, weather, habitat and durable mating areas

Fernáández-Gil, Alberto, Naves, Javier, Delibes, Miguel
Wildlife biology 2006 v.12 no.4 pp. 367-373
endangered species, mountains, summer, grasslands, forests, males, phenology, habitat fragmentation, mating systems, females, breeding season, Ursus arctos, temporal variation, humans, monitoring, natural resources conservation, zoogeography, courtship, cloud cover, spatial variation, breeding, diurnal activity, spring, rain, habitats, Spain
During 1988––2004 we made 297 non-systematic direct observations of free-ranging brown bears Ursus arctos in the Cantabrian Range of Spain, one of the southernmost and most endangered populations in Europe. Observations were distributed over the whole calendar year, with records in every month. We classified 23 observations as breeding behaviour (male-female close interactions). They occurred between 17 April and 12 June, but mainly from the second week of May to the first week of June, both included. Matings (N == 12) took place between 25 April and 12 June, with one in April, nine in May and two in June. These dates indicated that the mating season started earlier in the Cantabrian bear population than in other Euroasiatic and American bear populations. Breeding bears showed greater diurnal activity in cloudy and rainy weather than did non-breeding bears in the same period. Also, breeding bears used brush more often than forests and grasslands when compared with other bears in the same areas and periods. Some mating areas were used repeatedly in different breeding seasons (up to five years). The observed behaviour could be related to the small size of the bear population, the reduced and fragmented forest habitat and the high level of human disturbance characteristic of the Cantabrian Mountains. Reproductive strategies and mating systems, including the spatial and temporal patterns of breeding activities, are considered important scientific topics with implications for the implementation of suitable conservation measures, for the bears as well as for their habitat.