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Significance of anecdotes on historical perspective: black bear predation on sea turtle eggs

Karen A. Bjorndal*

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Daniel Pauly in his April 2010 TED talk on the Shifting Baseline Syndrome warned us that ‘We transform the world, but we don’t remember it.’ This lapse is the greatest obstacle to understanding and restoring the structure and function of ecosystems transformed by anthropogenic effects over past centuries or even over the past few decades. Historical anecdotes can be a powerful tool to address gaps in our knowledge of the past. I present a case study to demonstrate the use of anecdotes to reveal the extensive predation by black bears Ursus americanus on sea turtle eggs in Florida, USA. Until the late 1800s, bears were major predators on eggs deposited by the large sea turtle aggregations nesting on the east coast of Florida. However, this past source of mortality – and the resulting substantial transport of nutrients from marine to terrestrial habitats via the bears – are largely unknown today. By the early 1900s, the great influx of humans to the east coast of Florida quickly decimated the bear populations by hunting and habitat degradation. Without historical anecdotes, knowledge of the extensive predation by black bears on sea turtle eggs in Florida would have been lost.