Bear necessities: New study highlights importance of water resources for Andean bears

January 15, 2019, Zoological Society of San Diego

A new study is shedding light on the importance of one critical resource for Andean bears living in the dry mountain forests of Peru: water. The study—a collaboration between the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and San Diego Zoo Global, with assistance from the Spectacled Bear Conservation Society-Peru—found that Andean bears focus much of their tree-rubbing behavior on shrubs and trees that are located on trails near water holes. Bears typically bite, claw and rub their body parts on trees, which is believed to be an important form of communication with other bears in the region. The discovery that this behavior occurs near water holes could have implications for future conservation programs.

"It may seem obvious that water holes would be an important resource for Andean bears living in tropical dry forests—however, these results suggest that water holes are significant not just as sources of drinking water, but also as important sites where bears communicate with one another," said Russ Van Horn, Ph.D., San Diego Zoo Global scientist. "Because water holes are often the focus of activity by humans and their livestock, conservation planners will need to balance the interests of people and Andean bears in future programs."

A paper detailing results of the study, recently published in the journal Ursus, reported that while Andean bears didn't show a particular preference for tree-rubbing species, the locations of rubbed trees and shrubs were concentrated on trails near water holes. In the of Peru, water is a relatively rare, albeit critical resource. Consequently, since livestock in the area also make use of resources, conflicts may result between humans and bears.

This study is part of a larger effort by San Diego Zoo Global researchers and local partners to better understand Andean bear behavior and ecology. Andean bears are considered an umbrella species in the region, meaning that conservation programs aimed at protecting Andean bears will indirectly benefit other species in the Andes Mountains.

Andean bears are listed as Vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. They are native to the Andean countries of South America, and are sometimes known as spectacled bears because of white or light fur around their eyes. San Diego Zoo Global has been working with local partners to research and protect Andean bears in Peru. Andean bear habitat is being lost at a rate of about 2 to 4 percent per year as it is destroyed for mining operations, farming and timber harvest. The construction of new roads also fragments bear habitat. In addition, is altering the bear's habitat in unpredictable ways. Andean bears now primarily live in dense mountain forests, making the species difficult to study. The dry tropical where this study occurred is more open than other kinds of Peruvian forests, making field research easier.

Explore further: Andean bear survey in Peru Finds humans not the only visitors to Machu Picchu

More information: Jack D. Kleiner et al, Rub-tree selection by Andean bears in the Peruvian dry forest, Ursus (2018). DOI: 10.2192/URSUS-D-17-00012.1

Related Stories

With experience, people can tell bears apart

December 10, 2014

Studying the social interaction of bears through the use of camera traps and visual observations requires that humans be able to tell individuals apart. A study done using volunteers to study the vulnerable Andean bear indicates ...

Camera traps reveal Andean bears hate paparazzi

October 23, 2013

A series of camera-trap images released by the Wildlife Conservation Society today shows rare Andean bears acting like angry Hollywood celebrities – at least when it comes to having their picture taken.

Ancient extinct cave bear DNA found in modern bears

August 29, 2018

An international team of researchers has found evidence of extinct cave bear DNA in modern bears. In their paper published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, the group describes their genetic analysis of modern brown ...

Recommended for you

Archaeologists discover Incan tomb in Peru

February 16, 2019

Peruvian archaeologists discovered an Incan tomb in the north of the country where an elite member of the pre-Columbian empire was buried, one of the investigators announced Friday.

Where is the universe hiding its missing mass?

February 15, 2019

Astronomers have spent decades looking for something that sounds like it would be hard to miss: about a third of the "normal" matter in the Universe. New results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory may have helped them ...

What rising seas mean for local economies

February 15, 2019

Impacts from climate change are not always easy to see. But for many local businesses in coastal communities across the United States, the evidence is right outside their doors—or in their parking lots.

The friendly extortioner takes it all

February 15, 2019

Cooperating with other people makes many things easier. However, competition is also a characteristic aspect of our society. In their struggle for contracts and positions, people have to be more successful than their competitors ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.