Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 66, Issue 7, pp 1025–1032 | Cite as

Litter reductions reveal a trade-off between offspring size and number in brown bears

  • Ofelia GonzalezEmail author
  • Andreas Zedrosser
  • Fanie Pelletier
  • Jon E. Swenson
  • Marco Festa-Bianchet
Original Paper


Experimental manipulations have revealed positive effects of litter reduction on offspring mass in small mammals, but little is known about this trade-off in large mammals. We examined the determinants of natural litter size variation and quantified the effects of litter size, maternal characteristics, and litter composition on yearling mass using 24 years of data on marked brown bears (Ursus arctos) in Sweden. Infanticide by adult males is a major cause of cub-of-the-year mortality, leading to litter size reductions. Litter size (n = 265) at den emergence ranged from one to four cubs (average, 2.7) and increased with maternal age. Litter size, however, appeared independent of maternal size, population density, interlitter interval, study area, or previous litter sex ratio. Yearling body mass increased with maternal body size but was independent of litter sex ratio. Litter size and yearling mass were negatively correlated, mostly because singletons were about 30 % heavier than yearlings from litters of two to four cubs. In reduced litters, survivors were on average 8 % heavier as yearlings than individuals from intact litters, suggesting that sibling competition reduces growth. Trade-offs between litter size and yearling mass in bears appear similar in magnitude to those found in small mammals.


Body mass Brown bear Litter size Maternal effect Sibling competition Ursus arctos 



We thank the field personnel of the Scandinavian Brown Bear Research Project (SBBRP) for collecting data over the years. The SBBRP was funded by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, the Norwegian Directorate for Nature Management, the Swedish Association for Hunting and Wildlife Management, WWF Sweden, and the Research Council of Norway. M.F.B. and F.P. acknowledge the financial support of NSERC of Canada. F.P. is supported by the Canada Research Chair in Evolutionary Demography and Conservation. A.Z. was supported financially by the Norwegian Research Council. This is paper No. 129 from the Scandinavian Brown Bear Research Project.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ofelia Gonzalez
    • 1
    Email author
  • Andreas Zedrosser
    • 2
    • 3
  • Fanie Pelletier
    • 1
  • Jon E. Swenson
    • 2
    • 4
  • Marco Festa-Bianchet
    • 1
  1. 1.Département de biologieUniversité de SherbrookeSherbrookeCanada
  2. 2.Department of Ecology and Natural Resource ManagementNorwegian University of Life SciencesÅsNorway
  3. 3.Department of Integrative Biology and Biodiversity Research, Institute for Wildlife Biology and Game ManagementUniversity of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences, ViennaViennaAustria
  4. 4.Norwegian Institute for Nature ResearchTrondheimNorway

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