The now extinct California Grizzly Bear was known for his ferocity. Wild boar, though much smaller in size, also are aggressive and ferocious animals. But grizzlies and wild boar have much more in common than superficial attributes.
Both species can be beneficial to the environment in a surprising way. Grizzly bears were known to engage in soil disturbing grubbing and acorn digging. And grizzlies were not beyond raiding the shallow acorn caches of rodents. Wild pigs dig extensively for acorns and root up the soil in search of grubs and tubers.
Moderns research shows that grubbing activities by bears results in enhanced soil nutrients.
Researchers Rick A. Sweitzer and Alexis Grinde from the University of North Dakota* hypothesized that the grubbing activities of grizzlies and wild pigs are ecologically equivalent. The two biologists therefore carried out scientific experiments between 2004 and spring 2006 in Californian oak lands to determine the long-term effects of rooting on the native and altering plant life.
These carefully controlled experiments in open and fenced in areas found that “soil mineral ammonium, nitrate, and phosphorous were significantly elevated in rooted plots compared to fenced plots, and shallow acorn caches in control plots experienced lower survival than those in fenced plots. Wild pig rooting creates patchy areas with increased soil nutrients, which is important because plants that were collected from rooted areas had higher nitrogen and carbohydrate contents and greater overall seed production than plants from fenced plots.“
Of course, rooting pigs also found and eliminated acorn caches of rodents. It stands to reason that depleted food supplies will reduce the number of rodents in the area.
Higher mineral contents in plants, greater seed production of plants in rooted areas translate to more vigorous and healthier plant growth, especially of native plants.
If rooting boar could only stay away from barley fields and cash crops!
And what did the biologists conclude?
“. . . we cannot discount the idea that introduced wild pigs and extinct California grizzly bears share some level of ecological equivalency.”
So, next time an angry wild boar chases you up the nearest oak tree, think of him as a huge and ferocious grizzly. There is no shame in a hasty retreat up a tree from a raging grizzly!
After all, you lived another day to tell the story of your valiant fight with a grizzly of the California Oak Lands.
*Are introduced wild pigs ecologically equivalent to the extinct California grizzly bear?
Alexis R. Grinde and Rick A. Sweitzer, Department of Biology, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, ND 58202.