BEACON TRANSCRIPT – According to a new study, grizzly bears inhabiting Alaska’s Kodiak Island would seemingly choose berries over eating salmon in a complete turn in their diet. This change was tied and is considered to be an indirect effect of climate change.
Grizzly Bears in Alaska Turning Vegetarian?
This dietary change of the grizzly was noted by a pair of ecologists part of Oregon State University, Jonathan Armstrong and William Deacy. These have been observing the local bear population for years and saw how, each summer, this would consume large quantities of sockeye salmon.
This habit continued up until 2014. At the time, and in the summer of the following years, the local grizzly bears appeared to shy away from consuming their usual salmon. A closer look revealed that this fish had started being affected by bacteria that was eating away at it. The bears were also nowhere in sight during these periods.
So the study pair turned to using the tracking collars which they had placed on 15 bears in early 2014. This helped reveal their location in the summer. The bears’ whereabouts changed and were mostly in the hills, almost all being near elderberry bushes.
Climate changes led to the berries ripening earlier than usual, which meant that the elderberries were available as a food source at the same time as the salmon. Also, in a total surprise to the ecologists studying them, the bears chose the berries over the salmon in almost all the cases.
This caused quite some wonder as the salmon is twice as rich in energy than the elderberries. In turn, this helps the bears put on more weight for the winter.
“It is a strange, indirect effect of climate change. These bears eat dozens of different foods throughout the year, but now two of them are overlapping,” states Deacy.
He then continues by pointing out that this is causing unexpected disruptions in the food web. Ones that might have “profound implication” for the island’s ecology.
Armstrong also points out that this dietary change is likely going to have a large impact, which will also be hard to predict.
A study paper presenting the situation and the two ecologists’ conclusion was released in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
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