How Yellowstone Wolves Help Bears Eat Berries
By eating the elk that typically gorge on the fruit
By John Johnson, Newser Staff
Posted Jul 31, 2013 6:56 PM CDT
This photo released by Yellowstone National Park shows a grizzly bear moving through the brush.   (AP Photo/Yellowstone National Park, James Peaco)

(Newser) – Bears in Yellowstone are eating twice as many berries as they used to, and the reason is all about the intricacies of a wildlife ecosystem: The park brought back wolves, and they've been eating the elk that used to eat the berries, reports the Mother Nature Network. As a result, there are more berries for the bears, which like to gorge on them before hibernation. (Researchers figured this out the hard way—by examining bear scat.) On the face of it, this seems like pretty good news for the bears, and most of the coverage, like this story in Reuters, emphasizes how wolves are unintentionally helping the park's grizzlies.

But here's another example of those ecosystem intricacies: The population of northern elk in the park has dropped from roughly 20,000 to 4,000 since the wolves' return in the mid-1990s, reports the BBC. And while the bears like to eat berries before hibernation, they like to eat elk calves when they wake up. Those calves are now harder to find, which means the wolves' appetite for elk may end up hurting bears in the long run, suggests a Yale expert. "Unfortunately, as wildlife ecologists (work) in a vast landscape such as the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, it is very difficult to unravel the complexity of the patterns." (More interesting wolf news: We can now identify individual wolves by their howls, and some even have "accents.")

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Showing 3 of 38 comments
Aug 1, 2013 11:46 AM CDT
It's not just the bears, but the elk are benefitting. They are smaller in number, but they're no longer slow, sickly and diseased, but strong, fast and healthy. And since they can't just bed down all spring in the riverbeds eating aspen, willow and cottonwood shoots, the riverbeds are thriving with beavers, songbirds and riparian life. Wolves are integral.
Aug 1, 2013 10:35 AM CDT
All of the problems of Yellowstone will blow over some day. Yellowstone will probably blow over several states.
Aug 1, 2013 8:07 AM CDT
Researchers figured this out the hard way—by examining bear scat. There is a better way to tell what a bear has eaten. From the inside. I volunteer bmoc for the honor!