Bear scats are seed bombs… in spite of humans – New publication!

Brown bears are important seed dispersers because they feed intensively on fleshy fruits and defecate their seeds, enhancing their germination. However, bears are also opportunistic animals and can switch their diet to human-derived foods if these become abundant, which may potentially compromise the ecosystem services these animals provide. The results of a new study led by our team member Alberto García-Rodríguez demonstrate that bears can still play an important role as seed dispersers in human-modified landscapes if the management is appropriate.

The researchers analyzed by DNA metabarcoding techniques the content of more than 250 brown bear scats collected in Tatra National Park, a protected area located in a highly anthropized region of southern Poland and visited by more than 3.5 million tourists every year. Despite living among humans, Tatra bears fed almost exclusively on natural foods and followed a marked feeding seasonality based on the phenology of the natural resources: they fed primarily on herbs during spring and early summer, with fleshy-fruited plants becoming important from midsummer and until bears hibernated. Two species of berries, the bilberry Vaccinium myrtillus and the raspberry Rubus idaeus, were the food items most commonly consumed throughout the entire year. The authors suggest that actions such as effective waste management, strict regulations about human presence in areas especially relevant for bears, the lack of artificial food provisioning and control of berry picking are crucial to ensure the role of these animals as seed dispersers in human-modified landscapes such as Tatra National Park.

Link to the paper, just published in Biological Conservation:

Link to the BearConnect project website: