Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Major Professor

Michael R. Pelton

Committee Members

James T. Tanner, Larry Wilson, John Rennie, Ralph Dimmick


Information on population characteristics, movements, and activities of the black bear (Ursus americanus Pallas) are limited. This is especially true in Southeastern United States where land use practices have eliminated the black bear from much of its former range. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers one of the few remaining areas in the Southeast where suitable habitat for the black bear is assured. The present study was conducted to assess various aspects of population ecology of the black bear. Techniques pertaining to collecting information on black bear movements and activities are also limited. Therefore, a large portion of the study revolved around the methodology and testing equipment for collecting such data.

Animals with a long life span like the black bear are good subjects for the study of seasonal and annual physiological changes of individuals. By taking growth measurement at various seasons and between years some conclusions were made about the growth of black bears. Males grew faster, longer, and larger than females. Significant variations between individual bears existed although a general trend of rapid growth during the late summer and fall and a slow weight loss during the winter and spring was noticed. These physiological changes appeared to be related to food availability, nutrition, and breeding behavior.

The bear population was largely adults (68 percent) with cubs and yearlings (14 percent) and subadults (18 percent) making up the remainder of the population. The high average survival rate (78.3 percent) for adults was counterbalanced by a low reproductive rate. The average litter size was 2.1 cubs and only 17.4 percent of the females had cubs.

Adult females and subadult males confined their movements to 720 (1780 acres) and 650 hectares (1606 acres), respectively. One adult male was more mobile and covered an area of 1901 hectares (4695 acres) during 1972 and expanded it to 2242 hectares (5538 acres) the following year.

Panhandler bears concentrated their activities to areas around trail shelters although they also foraged for native foods. These bears were opportunist feeders and readily adapted to feeding on native foods when backpackers were less numerous during the fall and early winter.

Due to the close association of various habitat types created by various topographic positions, bears confined their movements to relatively small areas. There was overlapping of home ranges although area mutually exclusive to other bears of the same kind were noticed. the closes oak forest type was preferred during all seasons and bears would concentrate in areas of an abundant food supply.

Bears were active at all times of a 24-hour period but were most active from 1800 to 2400 hours and least active 1200 to 1800 hours. Movements during a 24-hour period were quite varied but ranged to over 20 kilometers.

Most panhandler bears were males and moving them to various areas inside the Park has been only partially successful due to their homing abilities. Previous homing experience and age are important considerations when moving bears to remote areas of the Park.

Bears entered their dens in early December and emerged sometime after March. Cavities high in over-mature trees appeared to be the favorite type of den.

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