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Keywords:

  • Alces alces;
  • aquatic vegetation;
  • habitat use;
  • moose;
  • Québec;
  • road;
  • salt pool;
  • sodium;
  • space use

Abstract: Sodium has many fundamental physiological functions in animals but is rare in boreal ecosystems where moose (Alces alces) thrive. In Québec (Canada), sodium is readily available in aquatic vegetation and in salt pools that form along highways. We do not know if moose are adopting specific behaviors to access sodium sources or if they simply use the sodium sources they encounter during their movements. We tested the hypothesis that moose modify both space and habitat use to gather sodium from salt pools. We expected moose to use salt pools mostly in spring and early summer, when needs are greatest and before aquatic vegetation has fully developed. We fitted 47 moose with Global Positioning System telemetry collars and collected data for 2 to 36 months between 2003 and 2006. We rarely located moose at salt pools (0.12% among the 95,007 locations collected). As we expected, use of salt pools was highest in late spring and in early summer, and we observed a time lag between peak use of salt pools compared to use of lakes and waterways, indicating moose fulfilled their sodium requirements in salt pools before aquatic vegetation was available. Moose selected salt pools over lakes and waterways when these 2 sodium sources were present in their home range and moved rapidly over large distances to reach them. Our results were consistent with moose using salt pools when they are likely to be sodium deficient. Salt pools were less accessible, required long-distance movements, and were located in habitually avoided areas along highways. Elimination of roadside salt pools should be considered among strategies to reduce cervid-vehicle collision risks in boreal environments.