Scientists Rule, Bears Drool

brown-bearScientists studying brown bears in Southeast Alaska have been using saliva left behind in half-eaten salmon carcasses to identify individual bears faster and with improved efficiency. Did I mention that nearly 300 fecal samples were also taken for a comparative analysis? Yum!

“We found that using bear saliva is not only easier and cheaper as a research tool, it is more effective.” said study co-author Taal Levi, assistant professor of fisheries and wildlife at Oregon State University. Saliva sampling’s higher amplification rates are proving a more efficient, affordable way to monitor bear populations.

Bears are apparently one of nature’s picky eaters.

“When salmon are plentiful, bears rarely eat the entire fish. In some cases, they only eat the brain, and we’ve found that swabbing along the edges of the braincase gives us the best results for extracting DNA,” said the study’s first author, Rachel Wheat. “We also had success with swabbing inside distinct bite holes, and in the muscle tissue where the bears have stripped the skin off the salmon.”

Since all sorts of elusive critters are also messy eaters, scientists are hopeful these saliva sampling methods will prove to be useful tools in other wildlife population monitoring efforts. Results from this study were recently published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Check out the paper, pictures, and all the gritty details at http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0165259.

By Matthew Hunt

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