Dietary change and stable isotopes: a model of growth and dormancy in cave bears


Link to Full Text

Download Full Text

Publication Date

September 1999


In order to discuss dietary change over time by the use of stable isotopes, it is necessary to sort out the underlying processes in isotopic variation. Together with the dietary signal other processes have been investigated, namely metabolic processes, collagen turnover and physical growth. However, growth and collagen turnover time have so far been neglected in dietary reconstruction based on stable isotopes. An earlier study suggested that cave bears (Ursus spelaeus) probably gave birth to cubs during dormancy. We provide an estimate of the effect on stable isotopes of growth and metabolism and discuss collagen turnover in a population of cave bears. Based on a quantitative model, we hypothesized that bear cubs lactated their mothers during their first and second winters, but were fed solid food together with lactation during their first summer. This demonstrates the need to include physical growth, metabolism and collagen turnover in dietary reconstruction. Whereas the effects of diet and metabolism are due to fractionation, growth and collagen turnover are dilution processes.


Growth, Dietary Change, Lactation, Collagen Turnover, Dormancy, Stable Isotopes

Document Type



Proceedings of Royal Society, Vol. 266, no. 1430 (1999-09-07).