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New tool maps a key food source for grizzly bears: Huckleberries

Grizzly bears depend on huckleberries as a critical food source to fatten up before winter hibernation. When berries reach peak ripeness in mid-July, they make up about half of the diet for the hundreds of grizzly bears that live in and around Montana's Glacier National Park. Despite the importance of huckleberries to grizzly bears, listed as threatened in the lower 48 states, there is no comprehensive way to know where the shrubs are located across the park's vast terrain. Tracking where huckleberry plants live now -- and where they may move under climate change -- would help biologists predict where grizzly bears will also be found. Researchers have developed an approach to map huckleberry distribution across Glacier National Park that uses publicly available satellite imagery. Huckleberry plants are an important cultural and economic resource for people, as well, particularly indigenous communities in the U.S. and Canada. Given the significance this plant plays in the life history of people, bears and dozens of other species, biologists need to be able to map and assess changes to the distribution of huckleberries to learn how to conserve them.

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