More salmon may mean less stress in B.C. coastal grizzlies

Researchers have found a connection between salmon intake, or a lack of salmon intake, and levels of a stress hormone in B.C.'s coastal bears.

Stress hormone cortisol found elevated in bears whose diet was lower in salmon content

A grizzly bear is seen with a salmon it just caught along the Atnarko river in Tweedsmuir Provincial Park near Bella Coola, B.C., in 2010. Researchers at the University of Victoria say an analysis of hair collected from 70 Central Coast grizzlies shows that those that consumed less salmon had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Researchers have found a connection between salmon intake, or a lack of salmon intake, and levels of a stress hormone in B.C.'s coastal bears.

Heather Bryan, a researcher with the University of Victoria's Applied Conservation Science Lab, led a study that sampled hair from 70 grizzly bears from B.C.'s Central Coast.

Bryan says the study found bears that consume lower amounts of salmon have higher levels of cortisol, which may be a bad thing.

"Cortisol is a common stress hormone, for people as well, and it's essential to the everyday survival of bears. It helps them cope with everyday situations and challenges," she said. "But, in the long term, if it's chronically elevated, it has also been associated with negative effects on health and reproduction."

Bryan is about to embark on the second phase of the study, which aims to measure the effects of higher levels of cortisol on bear behaviour and reproductive health.

With files from the CBC's Lisa Cordasco


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