Predicting changes in Bear Foods

Science Center Objects

Huckleberries are central to the diets of bears, grouse, and other animals, as well as being a cultural and food resource for humans. Approximately 15% of the diet of bears in the Whitefish range and Glacier National Park is huckleberries, and huckleberries help bears gain weight for hibernation. Changes in climate lead to changes in vegetation phenology, productivity, and quality that may influence the abundance and distribution of both plants and wildlife.

Huckleberries are central to the diets of bears, grouse, and other animals, as well as being a cultural and food resource.

We would like to evaluate several potential effects of climate change on bear foods, focusing initially on huckleberries. Berry shrub abundance and productivity is highly temporally and spatially variable, and has been difficult to predict over large landscapes. We will examine the interacting influences of weather and site conditions on the distribution of huckleberries, focusing on 4 processes: 1) predicting phenological and productivity changes given spatial and temporal conditions, 2) identifying pollinators of huckleberries, 3) evaluating the presence of an invasive fruit fly that could cause fruit to drop earlier, and 4) developing a temporal predictive model for huckleberry response to fires of varying severity.

In 2014, we began a pilot study to 1) use remote cameras and field observations to explore predictors of huckleberry phenology (flowering to senescence), evaluate how well we can identify phenophases using remote cameras, and estimate variation in phenology within and between berry stands; 2) identify huckleberry pollinators, and 3) evaluate whether spotted wing Drosophila are present near berry stands when they are fruiting. This will yield baseline information on Vaccinium phenology.

In 2015, we continued data collection, adding 10 new camera sites on the Flathead Indian Reservation in collaboration with Salish Kootenai College and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. 

Future Directions

Short term:
We would like to use citizen science and partner with other agencies and organizations across the larger landscape to collect phenology and productivity data on huckleberries, with the goal of developing predictive maps/forecasts of berry productivity.

Long term:
We would like to expand the project to revisit burned sites that we know had huckleberries pre-fire to build a model of the effects of fire severity on huckleberries. We would also like to expand the project to include additional bear foods.

Funding: USGS, NPS, David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellowship, USGS SISNAR, Roundtable on the Crown of the Continent


Phenology & productivity: Tara Carolin/Dawn LaFleur /Rebecca Lawrence/ others (Glacier National Park), Janene Lichtenberg (Salish Kootenai College), Mike Durglo/ Dale Becker/ Whisper Means (Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes), Maria Mantas (Swan Valley Connections)

Pollinators and Invasive Insects: Amy Dolan/ Casey Delphia/ Laura Burkle/ Mike Ivie (Montana State University), Maria Mantas (Swan Valley Connections)

Citizen Science Approach Evaluation: Melissa Sladek/Laura Law/Steve Prather (Glacier National Park), Jami Belt (Klondike National Park), Yaak Valley Forest Council

And many citizen scientists!