- Associated Press - Sunday, June 21, 2015

WEST GLACIER, Mont. (AP) - A researcher is working to learn more about huckleberries, which constitute 15 percent of the diet of grizzlies and black bears in Glacier National Park.

Tabitha Graves, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, has set up sites around the park to monitor huckleberries.

“Some years, the crop will be good in one place and bad in others,” Graves told the Missoulian (http://bit.ly/1FvgiSD ).

Her goal is to figure out why and provide valuable information for wildlife and public land managers.

There are a ton of variables to track as the pilot program enters its second year.

Moisture is important, but not just how much. When it rains is a key, too.

“If you get a lot of rain when the plants are flowering, the pollinators don’t get as much done,” Graves says. “That’s true for the cherry crop in the Flathead, too.”

She’s still adding to the list of things that affect huckleberries - everything from canopy cover to growing degree days.

“Last year, at the higher elevations, we still had green berries when a freeze hit,” Graves says. “They never made it to ripe.”

Graves is expanding on research started by biologist Katherine “Kate” Kendall, who retired after 35 years of grizzly bear research.

“Kate started monitoring the productivity,” Graves says. “Now we’re trying to understand the timing, and why there are more berries in different places at different times.”

For a fruit popular not just with bears, but birds and humans too, there has been remarkably little published research, Graves says.

“The phenology of huckleberries isn’t published,” Graves says, referring to the study of the plant’s life cycle events, and how they are influenced by habitat and variations in climate. “There’s a lot of information, but it’s mostly in people’s heads.”

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Information from: Missoulian, http://www.missoulian.com

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