Thursday, February 15, 2018

Move over Birds, Bears disperse Berries & other Seeds as well

Think birds are the primary dispersers of seeds? Think again. OSU researchers in Alaska found another animal that might disperse more seeds.

Image by TodaysReality

New research recently released by Oregon State University shows bears in southeast Alaska may be the best contributor for spreading berry seeds. Researchers used motion activated cameras set up in a study area about 30 miles north of Haines. 
“We checked the cameras and the status of the berry clusters approximately once per week.” quote from the study
Image taken on December 26, 2017 by Santee Lakes
Cedar Waxwings eating Toyon Berries @ Santee Lakes

Image by Danilo Carradori - (Fairy Wren)
We all know that birds consume tonnes of seeds, nuts & berries, etc and disperse these seeds to other locations by means of their poop. Just check any fence lines in the rurals or even in urban neighbourhoods of any city and you'll find out just what birds are fond of eating. For me as a landscaper it was annoying to see Brazilian Pepper tree seedling emerging from the bottom of chainlink fence borders. They are a nightmare to control if allowed to grow. Others who live in rangelands whose business is cattle may curse Junipers for spreading across their grasslands, but even here again it's the birds who are at fault. Maybe Cattleman should find economic ways to profit from the Juniper's presence, than blaming them for the invasion in their home territory. It's a common misconception to say that birds are the primary resource for naturally spreading seeds. There is an Oregon State University study that says it’s bears can ddo this through their scat (poop). I'd say both critters do this, but the bear factor is interesting. The Scientists concluded that’s largely in part due to the fact that brown and black bears could consume an estimated 300-400 berries in a single bite of a devil’s club cluster. Hopefully one day somebody renames beautiful things found in Nature which incorporate these otherwise vulgar words/terms "devil," "hell," etc. It's clear that there are a number of ways that seeds from plants in nature become dispersed. Another recent report from Cornell University stated that even Snakes act as 'ecosystem engineers' in seed dispersal. Well, that's what they said 😲 See, the idea is that snakes eat rodents like rats, mice, gophers, etc. These little critters eat seed and often store them in their cheek pouches and if a snake comes along and eats them, then the seeds are eventually released by means of snake poop. Whatever 😏 Anyway it's interesting and a little scary too when you consider the way humans have "reverse engineered" (Oops, recently got in trouble from someone for not using another science-based religious metaphor, "evolutionary degeneration") our planet Earth. It's like slowly dismantling an automobile to see how many parts and components you can remove before the vehicle is incapable of functioning anymore. How's that for this world's settled science? 😒

Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon
“In search of the nutrition in devil’s club fruit, we estimate that a single bear can consume over 100,000 devil’s club berries per hour of continuous foraging, and brown and black bears can collectively disperse an incredible 200,000 seeds.”quote from the study
Image by
The Oregon State researcher's data also showed black bears were more likely to eat berries late in the season when Grizzly Bears were trading in the berries for salmon. 😅
Got Kids ? Teach them about Nature 😸

Here's the full article on the interesting study:
The primacy of bears as seed dispersers in salmon-bearing ecosystems 
There was previously another study and practical application of utilizing bear scat in nursery plantings to reveal what had been eaten. Brilliant idea and one I'm not unfamiliar with as I've done the same with Coyote Scat and others have fed native Toyon berries to their Mina bird to facilitate California Holly germination.
Photo courtesy of Rocky Mountain National Park

Image - Art Norton
The photo above at a Nursery reveals that one pile of bear scat sprouted 1,200 berry bush seedlings in Rocky Mountain National Park. According to the article, almost one third of the seedlings were chokecherry. The rest were Oregon grape. Clearly from the leaves you can see which are which. There was a nice comment in the article which dismissed the notice that any and all findings must be stamped as official "science-based." Here's what the author said, "The scat seedlings, which are twice as tall as any human-grown sprout, are not an official scientific study with volumes of data and hours of research. They’re unofficial and called pocket science. This mini-experiment produced the kind of results that make adding real science motivating." Good for him. This is something that anybody could do on the own and share results with others and hand it on down to other generations. 👍

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