Indexed on: 21 May '14Published on: 21 May '14Published in: PloS one
Nutrient balance is a strong determinant of animal fitness and demography. It is therefore important to understand how the compositions of available foods relate to required balance of nutrients and habitat suitability for animals in the wild. These relationships are, however, complex, particularly for omnivores that often need to compose balanced diets by combining their intake from diverse nutritionally complementary foods. Here we apply geometric models to understand how the nutritional compositions of foods available to an omnivorous member of the order Carnivora, the grizzly bear (Ursus arctos L.), relate to optimal macronutrient intake, and assess the seasonal nutritional constraints on the study population in west-central Alberta, Canada. The models examined the proportion of macronutrients that bears could consume by mixing their diet from food available in each season, and assessed the extent to which bears could consume the ratio of protein to non-protein energy previously demonstrated using captive bears to optimize mass gain. We found that non-selective feeding on ungulate carcasses provided a non-optimal macronutrient balance with surplus protein relative to fat and carbohydrate, reflecting adaptation to an omnivorous lifestyle, and that optimization through feeding selectively on different tissues of ungulate carcasses is unlikely. Bears were, however, able to dilute protein intake to an optimal ratio by mixing their otherwise high-protein diet with carbohydrate-rich fruit. Some individual food items were close to optimally balanced in protein to non-protein energy (e.g. Hedysarum alpinum roots), which may help explain their dietary prevalence. Ants may be consumed particularly as a source of lipids. Overall, our analysis showed that most food available to bears in the study area were high in protein relative to lipid or carbohydrate, suggesting the lack of non-protein energy limits the fitness (e.g. body size and reproduction) and population density of grizzly bears in this ecosystem.