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Oct 29, 2013 01:20 PM EDT

How Global Warming Is Helping Threatened Grizzly Bear Population In Canada


As the effects of global warming deepen, not all living things will fall -- at least in the short term. A study tracking 112 grizzly bears in Alberta, Canada found that higher than average temperatures and subsequent forest disturbances may be benefiting the threatened species, Science Codex reported.

The 10-year study by University of Alberta biologist Scott Nielson and colleagues found that higher temperatures (and thus a shorter winter) give the grizzlies more time to build their food supply. Fatter grizzlies mean better chances at reproductive success, according to the press release.

The study also found that grizzlies were able to access a greater variety of food in forests that exhibited a wide variety of "stand ages", or the age of growth in the forests -- whether that variety was natural or caused by shifting global temperatures.

"The diversity of stand ages in the landscape has a positive influence on body condition because bears are better able to access a wide range of food sources," the study reported.

Bears born into these new conditions were at a greater advantage than previous generations and had a "head start in life", according to Nielson. More food meant they were more likely to survive and become larger bears as they moved into adulthood.

"We hypothesize that warmer temperatures in this ecosystem, especially during late winter and spring, may not be such a bad thing for grizzlies," Nielson said. "That suggests the species won't likely be limited by rising temperatures which would lengthen the growing season and the time needed to fatten prior to hibernation."

Understanding the conditions in which grizzly bears thrive could help conservationists protect the species, according to Nielson. He also noted that it isn't that surprising that grizzlies benefit from higher temperatures. The bears' population used to extend all the way down to Mexico while some continue to live in the deserts of Mongolia, according to the press release.

"Understanding variations in body size helps us understand what limits grizzly populations," Nielsen said. "We get clues about the environments that most suit grizzlies by examining basic health measures such as body size. A simple rule is, the fatter the bear, the better. Certain environments promote fatter bears."

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