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

(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.")

This photo released by Yellowstone National Park shows a grizzly bear moving through the brush.   (AP Photo/Yellowstone National Park, James Peaco)
This image provided by Yellowstone National Park shows a gray wolf in the wild.   (AP Photo/National Park Service, MacNeil Lyons, File)
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