30.10.2017 change 14.11.2017

Deer feeding changes the lifestyle of brown bears

Red deer stag between ferns in autumn forest. Red deer stag between ferns in autumn forest.

Feeding deer not only affects the behaviour of these animals, but also disrupts the paths of brown bears, according to researchers. Researchers comment that feeding is not necessarily good for animals and ecosystems.

Artificial feeding of ungulates, such as wild boars or deer, is used in some countries as part of wildlife management. Studies have shown that food delivered in fixed places (maize, other cereals or beets) not only alters the behaviour of the species for which it is intended, it also affects the paths of bears. First author of the study, Dr. Nuria Selva from the Institute of Nature Conservation of the Polish Academy of Sciences informed about the research results in a release sent to PAP.

To determine how often the bears visit ungulates\' feeding places, researchers have catalogued more than 200 such sites in the Eastern Carpathians and analysed more than 1,600 kilometres of paths of bears with telemetry collars. It was calculated that the bears visited feeding sites three times more often than the simulations of the movement of these animals would indicate.

"Bears regularly patrol feeding places. Feeding clearly affects their behaviour, and using places with easily accessible food disrupts and shortens the travel paths of bears" - said Dr. Nuria Selva. "Long-distance travel is crucial for the connectivity of bear populations and their survival, especially considering the current large fragmentation of habitats. Feeding practices for other target species may endanger this species" - she added.

Researchers have also tracked in snow on a distance exceeding 200 km. Their results indicate that bears often visit places of feeding, even in winter. "Many studies show the impact of feeding on the diet and wintering habits of bears. The effects of feeding are significant, especially given that six of the ten brown bear populations in Europe occupy areas where this practice is common" - explained Agnieszka Sergiel, co-author of the study. In the study area, land administrators annually introduce 2.5 tones of food per km2 to the environment. The authors shed light on the need to ban, restrict or modify feeding practices in the areas occupied by bears. Instead of maize or beet, potential bear food, ungulates could be fed with hay, which bears will not be tempted to eat.

"Moving is one of the fundamental needs of animals. Disruption of its fulfilment can be a sign of environmental degradation. There is an urgent need to protect the natural behaviour associated with movement and to reassess the impact of population management practices that take into account feeding" - said study participant Thomas Mueller, animal migration expert from the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre in Frankfurt. "It is important to protect the appropriate number of individuals, but it is also important for the bears to behave in a way that is natural for them. We have to look beyond the numbers and start protecting natural behaviours" - added Mueller.

The study published in the journal "Basic and Applied Ecology" (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1439179117300944) is the result of a collaboration between scientists from the Institute of Nature Conservation of the Polish Academy of Sciences, the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre in Frankfurt and the Tatra National Park. (PAP)

Author: Ludwika Tomala

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