Wildlife & Hunting

Multi-Scale Den-Site Selection by Black Bears in Mississippi

Principal Investigators

Jerold Belant
Mississippi State University Department of Wildlife and Fisheries

Brad Young
Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks


Graduate Research Assistants

Brittany Waller
Mississippi State University Department of Wildlife and Fisheries


Knowledge of den-site selection by American black bears (Ursus americanus) at multiple spatial scales is necessary for effective conservation and management of the species. Dens are a necessary habitat component that allow black bears to survive during periods of decreased food availability and provide a secure site for parturition. Black bears use different types of dens based on their availability and surrounding habitat characteristics. For example, previous studies have suggested a positive relationship between den sites and elevation and a negative relationship with human activity. In addition, the range of den types and sites also varies among bears of different age class, sex, and reproductive status. We believe that risk from conspecifics also plays a role in den-site selection as well.

Currently, there is no quantified information on den-site selection by black bears in Mississippi, including the state- and federally-listed Louisiana black bear (U. a. luteolus). Consequently, our objectives are to describe:

  • black bear denning chronology and den characteristics
  • second and third order den-site selection
  • conduct a statewide corridor assessment for black bear dispersal
  • the effects of bear population density and associated risks on den-site selection

We will evaluate den-site selection of radio-collared bears statewide during 2009-2011 in addition to characterizing den sites located previously. We will summarize and compare dates of den entrance and emergence by age-sex class and reproductive status. We will classify dens by type (e.g., tree, ground, excavated) and record den dimensions, presence of bedding material, and degree of security. For second and third order den-site selection, we will develop models of habitat, human activity, and risk from conspecifics and compare these models at the habitat patch and home range extents to estimate their relative contributions to den-site selection. Habitat model metrics will include elevation, slope, aspect, and vegetation type. Attributes of the human model will include road type, agricultural fields, and residential areas. Risk model metrics will include late autumn adult male space use, percent horizontal cover, and den type. We also will compare data between Mississippi and Michigan to evaluate the effects of bear density and associated risks on den-site selection. Our study will provide improved understanding of factors that influence selection of den sites by black bears in Mississippi. Understanding these factors will allow managers to identify existing suitable denning habitat and prescribe appropriate management regimens.

Full Report on Research Accomplishments To Date

Bear often hibernate during winter in large, hollow trees such as this one in the Mississippi Delta.


Researchers found this previously-captured bear hibernating in the Mississippi Delta. This is an excellent time to "recapture" this young male bear to replace the batteries in his radio-transmitter collar.


Graduate student Brittany Waller flies aerial surveys to locate bears while they hibernate to learn more about their den selection.


Funding for this project was provided by:

MDWFP logo MSU logo
FWRC logo Wildlife Restoration logo



Share this share this share this

Sign up, Keep Up

Sign up to receive monthly newsletters featuring all the latest news and happenings from MDWFP.