Gonzalez-Bernardo G., Bagnasco C., Bombieri G., Zarzo-Arias A., Ruiz-Villar H., Moralez-Gonzalez A., Lamamy C., Ordiz A., Canedo D., Diaz J., Chamberlain D. E., Penteriani V. [2021] Rubbing behavior of European brown bears: factors affecting rub tree selectivity and density. Journal of Mammalogy 102(2), 468-480 DOI; 10.1093/jmammal/gyaa170

Abstract : Scent-mediated communication is considered the principal communication channel in many mammal species. Compared with visual and vocal communication, odors persist for a longer time, enabling individuals to interact without being in the same place at the same time. The brown bear (Ursus arctos), like other mammals, carries out chemical communication, for example, by means of scents deposited on marking (or rub) trees. In this study, we assessed rub tree selectivity of the brown bear in the predominantly deciduous forests of the Cantabrian Mountains (NW Spain). We first compared the characteristics of 101 brown bear rub trees with 263 control trees. We then analyzed the potential factors affecting the density of rub trees along 35 survey routes along footpaths. We hypothesized that: (1) bears would select particular trees, or tree species, with characteristics that make them more conspicuous; and (2) that bears would select trees located in areas with the highest presence of conspecifics, depending on the population density or the position of the trees within the species’ range. We used linear models and generalized additive models to test these hypotheses. Our results showed that brown bears generally selected more conspicuous trees with a preference for birches (Betula spp.). This choice may facilitate the marking and/ or detection of chemical signals and, therefore, the effectiveness of intraspecific communication. Conversely, the abundance of rub trees along footpaths did not seem to depend on the density of bear observations or their relative position within the population center or its border. Our results suggest that Cantabrian brown bears select trees based on their individual characteristics and their location, with no influence of characteristics of the bear population itself. Our findings can be used to locate target trees that could help in population monitoring.

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