Bears in Pindos, Greece

Brown bears in their natural habitat in Northern greece
Brown bear distribution range in Greece comprises 2 distinct nuclei of unequal size, covering a total of about 11,000 km², and seems to have stabilized for the last 20 years after dramatic regression in the 19th century.

The study area for the ecological analysis extends over a 900km² zone in northwestern Pindus with elevations ranging between 550m and 2,637m. About 40% of the area presents a denivelation of 500m per km², and 7% of it is above 1,900m of altitude. Climate of the area is temperate with cold winters. Annual precipitation ranges from 1,270mm to 1,450mm and vegetation zones comprise of:

  • Oak forests with (Quercus frainetto, Quercus pubescens, Quercus cerris, Ostrya carpinifolia, Carpinus orientalis)
  • Pure and mixed coniferous and deciduous forests with: black pine (Pinus nigra), beech (Fagus sylvatica), fir (Abies borisii regis), and white pine (Pinus heldreichii)
  • Alpine meadows at the higher elevations

The composition (percentage of occurrence) of the main types of forest vegetation is:

Oak forests 27%
Pine forests 27%
Beech forests 10%
Fir forests 5%

Food Habits of the bears

The global (annual) diet is dominated by food items of plant origin (87%) followed by animal material (13%) mostly composed by insects (ants: 10%). Grass (herbaceous plants), fleshy and dry fruits composed the major proportion of the vegetable part in the bear diet. In total, 54 species were identified, meeting nutritional needs in proteins and glucids respectively (Mealey 1980). We noticed that the general feeding cycle appeared to follow plant phenology. We also noticed that there seems to be a close relationship between rhythm of consumption (massive) of several food items and their seasonal availability (short in time) and therefore optimal nutritional value, within their annual phenology stages (cycle). Herbaceous plants constituted the principal spring food (60% of occurrence in the spring sample) whereas fleshy fruits constituted the major part in summer (30% of the summer diet) showing a maximum in autumn (61% of the autumn diet).
We noticed a differential (off season) use of certain vegetable food resources such as acorns (70% of occurrence in the winter sample), beech nuts (45 %), and apples and pears (15%). When these were consumed in winter, they seemed to have a compensating role to the feeding stress characterizing this period of the year.
Animal material consisted primarily of ants (maximum consumption in summer, 43% of occurrence in the summer sample -10% of the total diet). Percentage of other mammal preys is apparently low (2% of the total diet) (taking into account high animal protein digestibility). Micrographic study of hair samples showed dominance of domestic ungulates (especially cattle, with the highest number of attacks concentrated in autumn). Remains of sheep, goats, domestic dog, and meles meles were also identified. Remains of tortoise were identified in 1.5% of the total sample.

Annual Activity and Habitat Use

The brown bears’ greatest activity levels occur within a period of 6 months between May and October (almost 70% of total activity signs) with a first maximum in June (10% of total activity signs) and a second one (more important) in September-October (34% of total activity signs)… read the full study here!

Excerpt from the study:
By GEORGE A. MERTZANIS, Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature

Related links:
>> ARCTUROS Environmental Center
>> CALLISTO Environmental Organisation