If a bear is awake, it is hungry; any rubbish bin, landfill site, farm or even a car could provide a meal. But in an increasingly urbanised landscape, bears and other wildlife eat more “human food”, which is shifting their behaviour and biology.
A study in the journal Scientific Reports found that bears with a diet rich in human food hibernated as much as 50 days less in the winter. That had “hidden effects”, beyond the basic need for more winter rest.
Those more active bears showed signs that their cells aged more quickly than those with more natural eating habits. Researchers discovered changes in their DNA; namely, a signature loss of the caps (called telomeres) on the ends of their chromosomes. These caps naturally shorten as animals age.