Climate change may affect the availability and abundance of huckleberries. By better understanding these changes, scientists can help to protect the species that rely on this important resource.
Huckleberries are an important food resource for grizzly bears, comprising about 15 percent of their diet in Glacier National Park and surrounding areas. These high-energy fruits are crucial for bears so they can add enough fat to sustain them for their winter hibernation and reproduce (female bears need approximately 20 percent body fat to have cubs). Changes in climate, however, such as warming temperatures, varying levels of rainfall, and declines in pollinator populations, can alter the availability and size of these berries. These changes not only impact bears, but grouse, elk, and many other species that depend on this precious food resource.
If the abundance of huckleberries is negatively impacted by climate change, bears may begin moving around more in search of food, which could lead to conflicts with humans. But what if scientists could predict changes in the availability of these berries in advance, and either manage land to increase consistency in the availability of these berries or otherwise mitigate conflicts before they even arise?
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is working through a partnership agreement with Swan Valley Connections (SVC) to lead this Earthwatch expedition. SVC, situated in Montana's scenic Swan Valley, is a non-profit organization whose work is a confluence of collaborative conservation and experiential learning.
Join USGS and SVC researchers in “big sky country” in northwestern Montana to collect data to understand and predict the impact of climate change on huckleberries, while assessing the role of huckleberries as food for bears, other mammals, and birds. These efforts could help to protect this important resource and the many species that depend on it.