Thursday, 1 August 2013

Of Bears and Berries: Return of Wolves Aids Grizzly Bears in Yellowstone

July 29, 2013 — A new study suggests that the return of wolves to Yellowstone National Park is beginning to bring back a key part of the diet of grizzly bears that has been missing for much of the past century -- berries that help bears put on fat before going into hibernation.

It's one of the first reports to identify the interactions between these large, important predators, based on complex ecological processes. It was published today by scientists from Oregon State University and Washington State University in the Journal of Animal Ecology.

The researchers found that the level of berries consumed by Yellowstone grizzlies is significantly higher now that shrubs are starting to recover following the re-introduction of wolves, which have reduced over-browsing by elk herds. The berry bushes also produce flowers of value to pollinators like butterflies, insects and hummingbirds; food for other small and large mammals; and special benefits to birds.

The report said that berries may be sufficiently important to grizzly bear diet and health that they could be considered in legal disputes -- as is white pine nut availability now -- about whether or not to change the "threatened" status of grizzly bears under the Endangered Species Act.


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