Moose (Alces alces) reacts to high summer temperatures by utilizing thermal shelters in boreal forests – an analysis based on airborne laser scanning of the canopy structure at moose locations



The adaptation of different species to warming temperatures has been increasingly studied. Moose (Alces alces) is the largest of the ungulate species occupying the northern latitudes across the globe, and in Finland it is the most important game species. It is very well adapted to severe cold temperatures, but has a relatively low tolerance to warm temperatures. Previous studies have documented changes in habitat use by moose due to high temperatures. In many of these studies, the used areas have been classified according to how much thermal cover they were assumed to offer based on satellite/aerial imagery data. Here, we identified the vegetation structure in the areas used by moose under different thermal conditions. For this purpose, we used airborne laser scanning (ALS) data extracted from the locations of GPS-collared moose. This provided us with detailed information about the relationships between moose and the structure of forests it uses in different thermal conditions and we were therefore able to determine and differentiate between the canopy structures at locations occupied by moose during different thermal conditions. We also discovered a threshold beyond which moose behaviour began to change significantly: as day temperatures began to reach 20 °C and higher, the search for areas with higher and denser canopies during daytime became evident. The difference was clear when compared to habitat use at lower temperatures, and was so strong that it provides supporting evidence to previous studies, suggesting that moose are able to modify their behaviour to cope with high temperatures, but also that the species is likely to be affected by warming climate.