Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Forbidden fruit a fatal temptation for grizzly bears in southeastern British Columbia

Human settlement and abundant fruit create ecological trap for the apex omnivore

Date: September 27, 2016
Source: University of Alberta

With its rustic small mountain towns, postcard-perfect vistas, and abundance of “pow” days, British Columbia’s East Kootenay region has an undeniable lure for outdoor enthusiasts of all varieties—and the appeal extends beyond ski bums and hikers. The resource-rich Elk Valley (including the towns of Jaffray, Fernie, Elkford, and Sparwood) is also a highly desirable home for wildlife like grizzly bears which are drawn to the area’s bountiful fruit supply.

“The habitat is really attractive, and it’s a good spot for bears to be,” says Clayton Lamb, a PhD candidate and Vanier Scholar in the University of Alberta’s Department of Biological Sciences studying population dynamics in the region. “They’re using evolutionary cues to search for areas with abundant food and less competition for space—the Elk Valley satisfies that need’”

The biggest attractors are huckleberries and buffaloberries, both high-energy fruits that attract bears to the region, often from tens of kilometres away. “In the absence of humans, those berries are really important to bears and drive their demography,” explains Lamb. Once there, the bears may then stumble onto additional human-created food sources like garbage or livestock.

That’s where the bears’ dream habitat becomes a nightmare.

In a new study, Lamb and colleagues analyzed nine years' worth of grizzly detection or capture data and found that the presence of humans has made this area into an ecological trap. This occurs where attractive habitat masks the significant risk associated with the area, creating a mortality sink that has far-reaching effects on the population.

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