By Virginia Morell and AAAS July 28
Grizzly bears and humans along North America’s Pacific coast have shared a hunger for salmon for millennia.
The fish figure prominently in many Canadian coastal cultures, including that of the Heiltsuk, who settled in the Great Bear rain forest of British Columbia more than 9,000 years ago and have lived alongside the grizzly bears since then. Wildlife biologists have also tied the rise and fall of grizzly bear numbers to salmon abundance.
Now, by means of a collaboration of Heiltsuk Nation members and scientists, researchers report finding a new aggregation of the salmon-feeding bears, many of which journey hundreds of miles along a route so well traveled that the team likens it to a highway.
In 2009, after establishing the Koeye River Conservancy, a protected area in the rain forest, the Heiltsuk joined with the scientists to find out how the ursines and the salmon were faring.
Over three years, they counted the fish and conducted a noninvasive DNA survey of the bears by collecting bits of the animals’ fur as they walked by scented wire snares during the salmon-spawning season.
Genetic analysis of the samples identified nearly 60 individual bears that depend on the salmon, the team reports in the current issue of the journal Ecology and Society.
But the survey also indicated that the bears’ numbers are decreasing, which the scientists say is probably tied to lower numbers of salmon, which may have led to hungry grizzlies’ seeking human food and getting shot, as well as to trophy hunting of the male animals when they traveled outside the conservancy.
This story was provided by AAAS, the nonprofit science society, and its international journal Science.
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