Factors influencing length of maternal care in brown bears (Ursus arctos) and its effect on offspring
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- Dahle, B. & Swenson, J.E. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2003) 54: 352. doi:10.1007/s00265-003-0638-8
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Length of maternal care, i.e. the interval between successfully raised litters, is the most important factor explaining the variation in reproductive rate among brown-bear (Ursus arctos) populations. In this paper, we examine the variation in length of maternal care in radio-marked brown bears and its effect on their offspring in northern Sweden. Young stayed with their mothers for 1.4–1.5 or 2.4–2.5 (in one case 3.5) years and were weaned with body masses varying from 17 to 69 kg. The probability of yearling litters staying with their mother for a 2nd year increased with decreasing yearling body mass, and was higher for litters with two offspring than for litters with one or three to four offspring. Staying with their mothers for a 2nd year had a positive effect on mass gain in yearlings and this effect was more pronounced in litters with two than three to four offspring. Body mass of 2-year-olds was not related to age of weaning, suggesting that keeping offspring for an additional year mainly compensated for low yearling body mass. If large offspring body mass positively affects later offspring survival and reproduction, mothers may be able to optimize the length of maternal care according to the litter size and the size of their yearlings.