What is the most interesting aspect of working with wildlife such as bears?
As a large-ranging omnivore, I am fascinated by the way that bears interact with their surroundings. For instance, almost half of their brain is devoted to their sense of smell, which they use to find food and interpret their environment.
What inspired you to pursue this research study?
In my new position with USGS, I looked around at the research that was being done and asked what important questions were not being addressed in northwestern Montana. The impact of climate change on bear foods like huckleberries was identified as a science need, but had not been addressed with modern research methods.
What is one of your favorite moments in the field?
Early in the spring, as we were walking to a study site where I’ve been recording the number of huckleberries, we entered a meadow and a grizzly was on the other end, digging for roots. We were able to watch her for a few minutes before she heard us and took off.
I also really enjoyed a day when I came across a grouse and her babies. The young were eating little flowering plants and the mother was eating the tiny berries from a Vaccinium species related to huckleberries nicknamed, appropriately, ‘grouse whortleberry.’ In trying to capture this on my video camera, I felt like I was really seeing the vegetation from this very different ‘birds-eye’ perspective.
How does citizen science support your research?
Growing huckleberries in greenhouses has been very challenging, which limits our ability to conduct experiments in controlled situations and really nail down causal mechanisms. To conduct similar experiments outside where huckleberry shrubs are already growing requires a lot more work. We simply would not have the resources to do these experiments without public participation. This experiment also ties into a large-landscape scale project where we plan to engage the public to collect data on phenology. To get data across the huge range of conditions that huckleberries exist would also be daunting without this engagement.