Odds and ends – Spirit Bear edition


(Spirit bear with her cubs)

A look see around recent science news on Veterans Day.

It matters if they’re black or white

On the central coast of British Columbia, the black bear population carries a recessive allele for a white coat. It is so common – up to 50% of the population has it in one area – that in the heart of the Spirit bear’s range up to one in five bears is white.

All the old discussions of the bear pointed out that there was no difference in the ecology of the two morphs and no selective advantage for the white form.

New research finds that’s not quite true.

Adaptive coat colour polymorphism in the Kermode bear of coastal British Columbia (10-page pdf) reveals that the white bears catch more salmon during daylight hours because salmon either do not see them or do not perceive them as a threat. To test the idea, the researchers dressed up in black and then white linen costumes – unfortunately there are no photographs – and found salmon twice as “evasive” in response to the black costume (during daylight hours).

Further, the authors cite their own unpublished analysis of isotopes in hair samples that suggest a greater portion of the white bears’ diet is of marine – salmon – origin than that of their black relatives. As the authors note, this is a two edged sword. What once may have been an advantage – a leg up in harvesting salmon – is of less value every year as the salmon supply dwindles away.

In summary, the data obtained in the present study suggest that the white coat colour morph in black bears of coastal British Columbia has elevated salmon capture efficiency relative to that of the black morph during daylight, partly as a result of the differential evasiveness of salmon to the two morphs. Because salmon may be particularly important for the white morph, the ecological persistence of this seasonal resource becomes an essential conservation consideration. Recent and ongoing industrial deforestation of the riparian zones on Gribbell Island and Princess Royal Island, where the white morph reaches its highest frequency, as well as major historical declines in salmon numbers returning to streams of the east Pacific . . . continue to compromise the integrity of this striking polymorphism.

(The Tsimshian say that after the earth turned green, Raven turned one bear in ten white, to remind them of the time when all the world was white. As noted in the article, dna analysis indicates the Kermode bear’s color variations existed at least as long ago as the last period of glaciation in BC.)

Deepwater boneyards

  • I used to wonder what happened to the substantial bones of large marine animals like whales, and wondered if there weren’t enormous piles of them somewhere. A few years ago a group of animals were discovered that break them down and digest them, with a big assist from a specialized suite of bacteria in their “roots” which grow into the bone tissue. A lot of the work on these creatures has been done by a group at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is celebrating the release of the most recent paper on them with an online exhibit.

A remarkable diversity of bone-eating worms is in the process of being published by BMC Biology.

The team dumped whale carcasses – found – into Monterey Bay and observed the eventual colonization by boneworms, cataloging 15 species in the bay alone. They also dumped cow skeletons and found the worms happy to colonize them. It’s all about the nutrients.

I see a whole new growth sector in the aquarium trade.

Boneworm image gallery

Note all the visible worms are female. In a case of extreme sexual dimorphism, the microscopic males live dozens at a time as parasites inside the female’s tube.

  • In the same general habitat, a deep sea crab that eats mostly wood, again with the help of specialized bacteria, has been identified as part of the community that processes logs that have washed out to sea and sunk. What a heyday they must have had in the days of the great armadas. It is satisfying to think of these crabs and their cohorts as the other side of the cycle that sees marine nutrients transferred deep into continental forests via the bodies of spawning salmon.



For the holidays: Reusablebags.com has become Reuseit.com. I hadn’t visited in quite a while – there are cheaper places to find reusable shopping bags – and was surprised at how many of their products I already use whether acquired from them or not: the metal water bottles (I find most too small), some variant of the swissgold coffee filter (footprint aside, it is annoying and expensive to keep buying paper filters), etc. One new product that looks very practical is a series of nylon sandwich and snack bags; also very elegant napkins in a variety of materials. Why not live elegantly?

The site is very well organized – “For Her,” kitchen, by material, by price, etc. There are some great gift ideas here.

One note: they do go on about recyclable gift wrap, etc. I long ago adopted the Japanese idea of wrapping a gift in a gift. A dishtowel, a towel, a tablecloth. Nothing is easier.


15 Responses to “Odds and ends – Spirit Bear edition”

  1. sisdevore Says:

    some wisdom from Gideon Levy:


  2. artemis54 Says:

    Controversy! Scandal!

    Obama and APEC derailing Copenhagen with their insulting statement that they’ll get around to it on the Twelfth of Never?

    No, Obama bowing to the head of state in a country where he is a guest.

  3. artemis54 Says:

    Knock me over with a feather.

    DK discovers Y2Y after I’ve been yelling about it for three years.

    Better late than never. Maybe they will listen when it comes from MB. But the seemingly complete inability to take information onboard unless it comes from Stewart, Olbermann or the front page is fairly depressing – it seems that the lesson of finding out for yourself has never been learned and never will be.

  4. artemis54 Says:

    Finally realized why Mitch McConnell looks so familiar. He looks exactly like a dead trout.

  5. uberVU - social comments Says:

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by melvingladys: Odds and ends – Spirit Bear edition: http://wp.me/phR05-GA

  6. sisdevore Says:



  7. cometman Says:

    You might like this if you haven’t seen it before – Digital Atlas of Marine Species and Locations.

  8. sisdevore Says:

    Naomi Klein on Climate Rage:


    • artemis54 Says:

      Thanks much for that one!

      Klein nails it. It is not just that the west, the north, whatever, has created the problem, it is that we have realized fantastic profits and built amazing wealth by doing so – it lies all around us. That is why we can afford if and why cries that Africans or Bangladeshis who ride their bicycles or walk to work if they have any should somehow find a way to reduce their footprints before the US or Canada should do so are not just received poorly as Klein documents. They are also deeply immoral.

    • cometman Says:

      Good article. Sounds about right to me. If the US balks at paying a few hundred billion a year in reparations, hopefully the developing nations will remind the world that the US came up with far more than that in a hurry when it came time to save a handful of criminal bankers. If the oligarchs in this country could actually think in the long term, they’d realize that money paid to developing countries now might very well save their own ass one day. As Klein mentioned, if the climate starts to get really bad, the US isn’t going to hold out the rest of the world with some big wall forever.

  9. sisdevore Says:

    When will bottled moon water be on the shelves?

  10. artemis54 Says:

    A day late for several reasons, Charter Miscommunications at the top of the list.

    • cometman Says:

      Nice post. I was going to let you know about the Monterey Bay boneworms needing a species name but I see you beat me to it.

      We’ve got a good collection of cloth napkins and towels at the old homestead which I really like using not only because they don’t use dead trees but because they’re nicer. Some aunts are pretty handy with the sewing machine and made us some really nice ones. For some reason though the mother in law continues to thwart my efforts at sustainability and brings a roll of Bounty every time she visits. Maybe I’ll wrap her Xmas present in it….

      • artemis54 Says:

        We were laughing the other day about the fact that we have a roll of paper towels, but use it so seldom that we couldn’t find it when we had a really obnoxious spill.

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