Thursday, September 18, 2008

Socially Learned Behavior; Essential for the Survival of Many Living Species on this Planet

There are various behaviors that different societies and cultures deem appropriate or necessary and these behaviors are essential to understand and know when to apply and use for the survival of many species within that society. For example out culture frowns upon walking down a main road naked, or shooting guns at crows in your backyard with neighbors close. Not following these rules can make for a very difficult life and even in some cases can result in death. learning when and where to apply certain behaviors is typically taught to many organisms by either their parents or by the community that they belong to, but they are always taught these values during ontogeny.

In the case of Black Bears (Ursus americanus) this method for raising offspring applies in the same way. For the black bears of Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks the ability for cubs to learn where and what to forage can be result in much more drastic consequences (death) if the offspring are taught improperly or not taught at all. For many of the park rangers at both Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks the bleak and raw results from improper foraging are a rather common situation.

Rachel Mazur and Victoria Seher along with the help of many park rangers conducted a study of the effects of sow cub foraging behaviors during 1995-2006 at Yosemite National Park and from 2000-2006 at Sequoia National Park. Of the 99 cubs reared during this period 20 were raised by mothers in exclusive wild areas and 18 remained in wild conditions throughout their life. 31 cubs were raised by mothers who themselves had been known to forage in developed areas although they taught their offspring to forage in wild areas. The remaining 48 cubs were raised by mothers who foraged in developed areas. Of the 51 cubs raised by mothers in wild conditions 44 remained foraging in wild conditions as adults and of the 48 raised foraging in developed conditions only 9 foraged as adults exclusively in the wild.

It is obvious that offspring pick up habits and social behavior from their parents (in this case just their mother) although not always can this be a good thing. Of the 48 cubs that were taught to forage in developed areas 22 died before they were 2 years old. The implications of this data are that there needs to be more effort put into the negative reinforcement of black bears when they are found to be in developed areas. Currently there is more efforts to increase the harassment towards black bears in developed areas, but some of this harassment needs to come from citizens , making loud noises or spraying bear spray are both ways that everyday people can help in this tragic situation. So now you know carry bear spray, not only can it save your life but you can help save the lives of bears.

Posted by Joe Alonzo

article can be found at:


in response to Tara Quist:

Many of the cubs forage based on both the environment and from what they are taught by their mothers, for example they are taught to eat out of dumpsters and trash cans which they are comfortable doing for the majority of their upbringing. Then one day they go through some traumatic event which makes them think twice about eating out of those ares, maybe a human almost hitting them with a car, or a gun being shot at them or worse their mother being killed in front of them. In this case they would probably resort to foraging back in the wild. Although the opposite could happen and the cub could go throughout their entire life and never go through an event like the above one and therefore always forage in developed areas.

many comments wanted to know about the cause of death for many of the cubs:
of the 22 who died before the age of 2, 16 died in or around developed areas by the following methods:
8 were hit by cars
1 killed inside of a garbage truck
1 killed by stoning by visitors
1 drowned in a sewage pond
5 were killed by park management for public safety

In response to Cecelia Hunt:

I think that cubs can pick up on stress from their mothers, so if they are being taken into stressful situations that cause a lot of tension (developed areas) the rewards better be worth it. For some of the cubs the rewards aren't great enough for them to risk their safety and so they choose to forage back in the safety and familiarity of the woods, this is the reason that I think some of the cubs raised in developed areas choose to revert back to the wild for their food. That and a combination of what was stated above in response to Tara's question.
No there was no control used for this study, only bears at Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks.

Response to James Sullivan:

Yes, if you see bears in developed ares use negative association tactics to make the bear leave. Scare them, yell, scream, make a lot of noise, throw things at them whatever it takes get them to leave and try to install a sense of danger and fear so that they associate development with danger and fear rather then with food and gluttony.

-Updated by Joe Alonzo


At 9:18 PM, Blogger PWH said...

This is a really interesting topic after discussion in class as to whether behavior is based on inheritance, environment or both. It is hard to say exactly which way this goes because the cubs tend to forage where their mothers showed them, but there were 9 of them that did forage in the wild even though their mother foraged in developed areas. It also would be based on the environment because these bears had to adapt to foraging in developed areas. Do you think it is a mixture of both? I would also like to know why it is that the cubs who forage in developed areas are dying. Is it because there is less food for them?

On a side-note you may want to make the font larger and bold on your title. It is a very interesting post and I enjoyed reading it!

Tara Quist

At 8:37 PM, Blogger PWH said...

This was really interesting to read. I have to wonder if bears raised in the wild (away from national parks) are less likely to be influenced by their mothers' foraging habits. Maybe the mothers communicated danger to their offspring, allowing them to appreciate safe versus unsafe areas. If this is the case, bears in the wild may not need to differentiate places they can and can't be, and not need to adapt this behavior.
Did the experimenters also used a control group, raised away from national parks?

Cecelia Hunt

At 12:03 AM, Blogger PWH said...

I'm glad to see that this study was carried out because black bears keep getting pushed out of their habitat as we build further into the wildnerness. Did the article mention how the result could be applied to better manage the bear population?

James Sullivan

At 8:50 AM, Blogger PWH said...

Great article! I found this article especially interesting because I have been having a rather large bear coming into my own yard, as well as my neighbors and stealing entire bags of trash on several occassions. I can easily see how the effects of development can be a tempting resource for bears to exploit. Reading about the reprocussions that this can have I will look into what can be done.I am now curious as to what bear repellent sprays are and will try and make a safe effort to deter the bear from coming back. Hopefully more bears can be saved with more information and education getting to the residents in the surrounding area of your article. It would be interesting to see what means it would ultimately take to keep bears away from people.

Lindsay Goodyear

At 5:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also am curious as to the genetic basis, if any, for this foraging behavior. It would be good to know if certain lineages prefer wild or domestic areas to forage in. Like you mentioned, with people and bears coming into contact more & more bad things are bound to happen for both humans and the bears.

Allan Eldridge

At 5:17 PM, Blogger PWH said...

bear spray, i'll keep that in mind!
are these bears only raised by their mother? also of the 22 cubs that died before they reached 2 years of age, did they die of natural causes or were they killed?
very interesting article by the way!

-Hessom Minaei

At 6:53 PM, Blogger PWH said...

Very interesting article to read. It's interesting to hear that cubs raised in developed areas have a decreased survival rate in wild areas. I wonder how wild raised bears would fair in a developed habitat. I can't help, but think that not only do bears have to adapt their behavior to fit a changing habitat, but humans must, as well. By reading articles, such as these, it's informing the human population on how to handle their ever changing environment in a way that helps both themselves and the animal.

Maura Mulvey

At 9:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My family and I used to take trips up to Yosemite National Park and the rangers there would always give us handy tips on how to avoid bears. Many people don't realize that bears are not out there to eat you; in fact nothing could be farther from the case; they just want you to leave them alone. However if you do encounter a wild bear, you should never run. This will just provoke the bear into following you and while the running speed of bears differ, its safe to say that any bear would easily catch up to you.

What you should do is make yourself larger, utilizing a coat or jacket and spreading it out with your arms. Also having bear spray would be idea for dealing with such an encounter.

It really goes to show that the best way to deal with nature is to not mess with it at all.

Two little mistakes, your title is not bold (or you have a lack of one) and you forgot the (1) after your name.

-David Byun

At 9:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What happens to endangered wild life animals. There are animals with only tens and few hundreds left in the world. Babies may not have enough sources to forage and learn for survival, but they are still alive, making their lives. They disappear mainly because of human factors, but I wonder how foraging affects endangered animals' lives.

Yi, Jeongsang

At 5:40 PM, Blogger PWH said...

Bears are my favorite animal, which made me interested on this article. In this article, I could see how they adapt in their different environmental situation depending on what they learn from their mother. From the result, I realized that how important learning something from their parents for surviving. In addition, I kept thinking human and bear have similarity like human young born child is also affected by their parents teaching. Through this article I thought that these reasons why animal behavior can be explained by human behavior. Anyway, it was very interesting article.

So Jin Lee

At 10:03 PM, Blogger PWH said...

Nice article. I had no idea that cubs were not able to learn how to forage successfully without their mothers. The cause of death for all cubs that died would be a nice addition to your article so we can determine what were the general causes of death. Human interference is a huge problem for all species in the wild and I would like to know more about how humans have contributed to the death of the cubs.

Carlos A. Varela


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