Brown bears (Ursus arctos) are a long-lived and widely distributed species that occupy diverse habitats, suggesting ecological flexibility. Although inferred for numerous species, ecological flexibility has rarely been empirically tested against biological outcomes from varying resource use. Ecological flexibility assumes species adaptability and long-term persistence across a wide range of environmental conditions. We investigated variation in population-level, coarse-scale resource use metrics (i.e., habitat, space, and food abundance) in relation to indices of fitness (i.e., reproduction and recruitment) for brown bears on Kodiak Island, Alaska, 1982–97. We captured and radiocollared 143 females in 4 spatially-distinct segments of this geographically-closed population, and obtained ≥30 relocations/individual to estimate multi-annual home range and habitat use. We suggest that space use, as indexed using 95% fixed kernel home ranges, varied among study areas in response to the disparate distribution and abundance of food resources. Similarly, habitat use differed among study areas, likely a consequence of site-specific habitat and food (e.g. berries) availability. Mean annual abundance and biomass of spawning salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) varied >15-fold among study areas. Although bear use of habitat and space varied considerably, as did availability of dominant foods, measures of fitness were similar (range of mean litter sizes = 2.3–2.5; range of mean number of young weaned = 2.0–2.4) across study areas and a broad range of resource conditions. Our data support the thesis that brown bears on Kodiak Island display ecological flexibility. This adaptability is likely representative of the entire species and has helped facilitate its wide geographic distribution and abundance. We suggest variation in brown bear resource use necessitates area-specific management strategies to ensure suitable conditions for their long-term persistence.
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Vol. 23 • No. 1