Although numerous studies have documented behavioral effects of nature-based tourism on wildlife populations, few studies have determined whether behavioral changes translate to effects on individual condition and population health. This issue is currently a concern for wildlife managers in Alaska, USA, and Canada where bear viewing is a rapidly growing industry expanding into previously undisturbed bear habitats. Rather than record observations at long established tourism sites, we experimentally introduced bear viewing into 2 relatively undisturbed brown bear (Ursus arctos) populations in south-central Alaska. We examined the nutritional consequences of behavioral changes induced by the presence and activity of bear viewers for bears feeding on early summer vegetation and late-summer salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch and O. nerka). We used Global Positioning System collars, monitored food resource availability, and quantified individual resource use and condition for a year prior to and during the introduction of bear viewing. Though bear viewing altered spatiotemporal resource use in all treatments, total resource use declined only when we exposed bears to 24-hour daily human activity. Energy expenditure, indexed as daily travel distances, was significantly higher when bears responded by altering spatial rather than temporal resource use. However, body weight and composition were unaffected by all treatments as bears shifted their foraging to other locations or times. Managers can minimize nutritional impacts of bear-viewing programs by avoiding spatial displacement and providing predictable time periods when bears can access food resources free of human activity. Bears in this study exhibited a high degree of behavioral plasticity, which may be an important factor in identifying flagship species for sustainable ecotourism programs.
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Vol. 71 • No. 3