The lives of salmon and bears in BC are inextricably linked and new research by scientists at Raincoast Conservation Foundation and the University of Victoria underlines the importance of conservation managers looking at entire ecosystems in order to keep both species healthy.
The more meat that bears get, and especially more fish, the healthier they are. They have a larger body size and they have more cubs.” Megan Adams
The wide-ranging study of the amount of salmon eaten by bears in different areas was conducted by a group led by Megan Adams, Hakai-Raincoast scholar and PhD candidate at UVic and was published today in the peer-reviewed journal Ecosphere.
Researchers looked at more than 1,400 hair samples from 886 grizzly and black bears, which ranged over almost 700,000 square kilometres of B.C. from 1995 to 2014.
The huge database has produced a pattern showing salmon hotspots and demonstrating how the health of bears improves and population density increases when there is an abundance of salmon and declines when salmon runs fail — illustrated by bear deaths on the Central Coast when sockeye runs crashed.
“I like to look at these hotspot maps as health indicators of the ecosystem. If it is thriving, you have fishy, fitter bears,” she said.
Male grizzlies are the biggest consumers of salmon and one surprise of the study was the discovery that it is not only bears living in coastal areas such as the Great Bear Rainforest that rely on salmon — bears living 1,000 kilometres from the coast prefer a fishy diet.