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Habitats and Home Ranges

Habitat Use and Movement

Most bears in Scandinavia are found in the boreal forest, although they do foray into the mountains as well. Where they move within the forest when they are active, or what habitat they utilize, likely reflects where their important food items are found. Of course, the habitats they use changes with season when different foods are available in different places. In general, both sexes prefer rugged forest terrain over flatter forest terrain and marshland. Forest in rugged terrain seems to have two advantages. First, it may offer more food resources and second, it may be safer because it is visited less often by people. Bear movement and habitat choices appear to be heavily influenced by humans, with bears generally avoiding both people and developed areas.


Bears also spend a good amount of time resting, and in general, choose resting sites that are relatively hidden with relatively dense vegetation and little


visibility. However, resting site selection varies with the bears reproductive status. For example, females with yearlings somewhat surprisingly choose habitats with a less dense understory and higher visibility. These sites also tend to be in dense forest and have a higher proportion of tall pine trees that cubs may climb for safety from male bears and other threats.

Bears are commonly active early in the morning and late at night, and the length and timing of their active period varies throughout the year. For example, right after they have left their den, bears tend be active during the day and rest for longer periods. During fall when bears are in hyperphagia, or continuously eating to build up fat reserves for winter, they tend to be highly active during the day.


Typical daily bear activity patterns, as shown distances traveled by 78 brown bears in Sweden between consecutive GPS locations at 30-min intervals. Graph from Bio Con. 2012; 152:21-28.

Home Ranges

Brown bears usually do not have territories that they defend, rather, they use what is called a ‘home range’. A home range is the area where the bear lives and obtains the resources required for survival and reproduction, i.e., the area in which it forages and searches for mates and other resources. Bear home ranges typically overlap, and most young cubs establish their home ranges partly within their mothers' home ranges. The home range size of bears in Scandinavia varies widely. For example, home range sizes tend to increase when the bear population is less dense, and male home ranges are generally larger than females, likely because they move farther in search of mates than their female counterparts.

Image by Hans Veth
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