Living on the Edge: Viability of Moose in Northeastern Minnesota



ABSTRACT  North temperate species on the southern edge of their distribution are especially at risk to climate-induced changes. One such species is the moose (Alces alces), whose continental United States distribution is restricted to northern states or northern portions of the Rocky Mountain cordillera. We used a series of matrix models to evaluate the demographic implications of estimated survival and reproduction schedules for a moose population in northeastern Minnesota, USA, between 2002 and 2008. We used data from a telemetry study to calculate adult survival rates and estimated calf survival and fertility of adult females by using results of helicopter surveys. Estimated age- and year-specific survival rates showed a sinusoidal temporal pattern during our study and were lower for younger and old-aged animals. Estimates of annual adult survival (when assumed to be constant for ages >1.7 yr old) ranged from 0.74 to 0.85. Annual calf survival averaged 0.40, and the annual ratio of calves born to radiocollared females averaged 0.78. Point estimates for the finite rate of increase (λ) from yearly matrices ranged from 0.67 to 0.98 during our 6-year study, indicative of a long-term declining population. Assuming each matrix to be equally likely to occur in the future, we estimated a long-term stochastic growth rate of 0.85. Even if heat stress is not responsible for current levels of survival, continuation of this growth rate will ultimately result in a northward shift of the southern edge of moose distribution. Population growth rate, and its uncertainty, was most sensitive to changes in estimated adult survival rates. The relative importance of adult survival to population viability has important implications for harvest of large herbivores and the collection of information on wildlife fertility.