Moose dying in Minnesota at alarming rate; climate change cited as cause

moose.jpg
This bull moose was photographed in Minnesota's Superior National Forest.
A New York Times piece published this week takes a look at rapidly declining moose populations across the country, with particular attention paid to Minnesota.

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Minnesota has two geographically distinct moose populations, one in the far northwestern part of the state and the other in the arrowhead. According to the NYT, both populations have rapidly declined in recent years. The one in the northwest "has virtually disappeared since the 1990s," the NYT writes, with that population dropping to less than 100 from 4,000. In the arrowhead, the number of moose is declining by 25 percent a year, down to less than 3,000 from 8,000 in the late 1990s. As a result, all moose hunting in the state has been suspended.

The exact cause of the decline remains subject to debate, but experts cite climate change as one of the main factors.

From the NYT:
Several factors are clearly at work. But a common thread in most hypotheses is climate change...

In Minnesota, the leading culprits are brain worms and liver flukes. Both spend part of their life cycles in snails, which thrive in moist environments...

"It's complicated because there's so many pieces of this puzzle that could be impacted by climate change," said Erika Butler, until recently the wildlife veterinarian at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
The hypothesis that rising temperatures in Minnesota are killing off moose is borne out in more detail in an On Earth feature from this summer entitled, "What's Killing Minnesota's Moose?" Here's how writer Jessica Benko answers that question:
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DNR
A map of Minnesota's moose range.
Although temperatures are also rising elsewhere in North America, the problem seems to be one of thresholds. Moose are adapted for extreme cold, and Minnesota's North Woods are at the southern boundary of their range on the continent. Researchers in one small study observed moose beginning to pant in order to cool themselves when the temperature rose above just 23 degrees F in winter, when they are carrying a heavy double-layered coat. In summer, temperatures as low as the 60s can cause moose to seek shade. At higher temperatures, their need to keep cool can override their pursuit of the 50 to 70 pounds of food they need to eat each day. The warming trend in Minnesota is bringing an increasing number of days above those thresholds for the moose. There are currently no data to support a direct causal relationship, but some moose biologists suspect stress at critical times of the year may put them at greater risk of dying from predators, parasites, and diseases they might otherwise have been able to fight off.
As the NYT explains, in addition to the whatever intrinsic loss there is to the state when one of its signature species disappears (as well as the loss of tourism dollars), the decline of the Minnesota moose has consequences for other species as well. For instance, when moose browse shrubs, they create habitat for nesting birds.

-- Follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter at @atrupar. Got a tip? Drop him a line at arupar@citypages.com.

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34 comments
MicheleBachmann
MicheleBachmann topcommenter

The Wild should change their name to the Minnesota Moose because the Minnesota Wild is a very very very very very very stupid name.   

Jason Nesler
Jason Nesler

NOOOOOOOOOOooOoOoOoOooOoOoooooOOooOOOOOO!!!!

Jean Claude Cau
Jean Claude Cau

Maybe the moose hunting season should be curtailed till they figure it out.

Sue Bush
Sue Bush

How is it that moose can die from Lyme but people can't? Best give those moose the same treatment - Prozac and Zoloft and call that veterinary psychiatrist!

Evik James
Evik James

Any Republican reading the headline would respond with "nuh uh".

Kailey Lane Denney
Kailey Lane Denney

umm yeah that's what happens when they are killed for fun by thousand of people.

Misty Garrick Miller
Misty Garrick Miller

If climate change doesn't exist, but moose are dying due to climate change, maybe moose don't exist.

Onan
Onan

What about squirrel?

CinBlueland
CinBlueland topcommenter

Odd.. "Twenty-four of the remaining 34 calves died within four months. Sixteen were killed by wolves, four were killed by bears, two were abandoned, one drowned and one died of unknown causes."  Looks like a predator problem. 

http://www.startribune.com/local/225487322.html


They do give a nod to "Climate Change" at the very end of the article but that appears to be the smallest contributing factor in the population decline.

T.S.Moody
T.S.Moody

@Selena Cripps Did you read the article.  It specifically sites the leading cause of Moose deaths, and *SPOILER ALERT* it's not wolves.

_Joe_
_Joe_

@Jean Claude Cau 

Do you know how we know you didn't read the article?

mingtran
mingtran topcommenter

Scientific evidence concludes they would be correct at this time.

T.S.Moody
T.S.Moody

@Evik James That's basically what my republican friend did when I posted this on my Facebook page. 

_Joe_
_Joe_

@Kailey Lane Denney

Moron.  Licenses are tightly controlled.  You can only get one license in your life.  Regardless of whether or not your hunt is successful.  In 2009, 223 licenses were purchased and hunters had about a 46% success rate, or about 107 mature bulls.


Not to mention, Moose hunting in MN is currently suspended.

CinBlueland
CinBlueland topcommenter

@Misty Garrick Miller Ask Kailey, it's obviously the thousands of hunters.


MicheleBachmann
MicheleBachmann topcommenter

@CinBlueland  "moose biologists suspect stress(from global warming) at critical times of the year may put them at greater risk of dying from predators, parasites, and diseases they might otherwise have been able to fight off."    

Just out of curiosity how much study have you given climate science and/or moose biology?     Have you ever published a paper with your findings?   I'm just curious why you think you are smarter than scientists who have devoted their lives to studying wildlife and climate change.    I mean since you didn't seem to understand the point of the article I would question your scientific credentials.   Global climate change means higher temperatures in Northern Minnesota.   The moose is built for colder temps.   The scientists have observed and recorded higher temps and moose struggling in the heat.   They logically have a theory that higher temps means the moose are less effective at protecting themselves from predators.   The predator problem has to do with global warming.   Seems pretty logical to me.   Since you missed the point why don't you present your theory about how its a "predator problem".    Is your theory that bigfoots or aliens are eating the moose?    Please tell me why over the last 10 years moose are suddenly such easy prey.   Since you are an expert explain how the predators have suddenly gotten more successful at hunting moose.  

mingtran
mingtran topcommenter

You're funny

_Joe_
_Joe_

@T.S.Moody 

Actually, the leading cause of Moose deaths in MN is wolves.  And what they state in the article is a hypothesis about climate change affecting the herd even more.

CinBlueland
CinBlueland topcommenter

@MicheleBachmann @CinBlueland MB, how is the predator problem a GW issue? MNDNR restricted hunting, trapping of the wolf population until it rebounded to the point where they have reopened hunting. Adding more predators into the mix what is the usual outcome?

The comment about the Moose not being able to defend themselves, and adult yes usually and not what is cited. The article talked about the calf population.

I made no comment about GW, other than another local article that showed predators to be a more obvious factor than GW.

In short, I was adding more information than that provided from the NYT article. I can see both as a factor instead of placing the blame for everything on GW.

_Joe_
_Joe_

@MicheleBachmann

Nothing specific, other than the things I mentioned.  Remember, It takes some time for new infectious agents to be realized and fully understood.  We're still only just beginning to understand neurological diseases caused by mis-folded proteins called prions, and we only started talking about them in the last 20 years.  The diseases they cause existed for a long time before that, but no one had yet recognized the patterns.

If we can miss stuff like that in people, I think it's not a big leap to assume that it might take us a while to catch on to new diseases in wild animals.  Remember how long it took to get a handle on CWD in deer?  We still don't know everything about it.  A few years back the DNR was collecting heads during the hunting season so they could be tested, despite there being no evidence that MN herds were affected.

Like I said, other than what I already mentioned, it's really just a gut feeling.  I spend a lot of time in the woods, and some of the carcasses I've encountered were just... off.  In a way I can't put my finger on exactly.

CinBlueland
CinBlueland topcommenter

@qwertyuiopQ, I understand quite clearly. And that is a perfectly logical argument. Unfortunately not the case in this circumstance. We're dealing with human intervention. A. Wolves nearly killed off completely in the region. B. Wolf hunting banned. C. Wolf population recovers over decades and now we're seeing a spike in predator kills. 

And once again for MB, I was adding additional information as the NYT article laid the majority of the problem on GW/CC and even a cursory look at the issue would show there are a variety of factors to be considered. 

Now if you want to lay blame for a species extinction on climate change completely, I think the woolly mammoth would be a good candidate.

MicheleBachmann
MicheleBachmann topcommenter

@_Joe_ Just out of curiosity is there any reason why you think disease is a factor?   I would think that would be easy to spot but it does seem like they are just starting to explore the issue so maybe there is something to be found.  

If I saw a moose in the wild I would have an excitement boner combined with a terror poop.  They are huge.  

MicheleBachmann
MicheleBachmann topcommenter

@CinBlueland  "Researchers in one small study observed moose beginning to pant in order to cool themselves when the temperature rose above just 23 degrees F in winter, when they are carrying a heavy double-layered coat. In summer, temperatures as low as the 60s can cause moose to seek shade. At higher temperatures, their need to keep cool can override their pursuit of the 50 to 70 pounds of food they need to eat each day. The warming trend in Minnesota is bringing an increasing number of days above those thresholds for the moose."    


Read the article next time before you comment.  People don't need to hear your stupid thoughts on every topic jackass.   How do you not understand how warmer temps might impact a cold weather animal like the moose.  If you are panting you won't get away from a pack of wolves.   Seems like a pretty common sense premise.   Have some shame of your stupidity.   

CinBlueland
CinBlueland topcommenter

@qwertyuiopMy apologies for any confusion, as I mentioned to MB, the NYT article was laying the entire blame on GW/CC, I was adding that there are other contributing factors.

qwertyuiop
qwertyuiop

@CinBlueland 
I don't think you understand the concept of carrying capacity. Predator populations are limited by suitable habitat for reproduction and prey availability among other things. Wolf numbers and moose numbers both made strong recovers at overlapping periods in the mid to late 20th century here. Increasing numbers of both animals means that the area they occur in has to expand, in order to stay at the maximum load. It is unlikely that predators have suddenly become so efficient at hunting the same prey they've encountered for thousands of years that they completely wipe it out of an area. You made note of the loss of juvenile moose to predators; with many herbivores that is the primary cause of mortality, and most mortality occurs before they reach adulthood. That figure only provides one piece of evidence. To make better sense of the situation that number (which is dismally small, and hardly representative) needs to be compared to other moose population growth models (does the rate of mortality meet or exceed that of similar populations?). Beyond that, adult mortality has to be considered. Moose are long-lived and have a slow birth rate, so a very slight increase in adult mortality may cause the overall growth rate to slow, possibly dramatically like we are currently seeing. A slight increase in pathogens or parasites, caused by anything, may be the tipping point for this subspecies of moose, in this environment. But it is very unlikely that it is simply due to an "over"-abundance of predators.

_Joe_
_Joe_

@CinBlueland

I spend a LOT of time in the woods in the arrowhead region.  I can confirm that the recovering wolf population is having a significant impact on the area and animal poulations. 

It wouldn't surprise me if global warming plays a role in the decline of the moose population, but at this point there's no hard evidence to confirm, thus the "biologists suspect" statement.

I honestly believe it is an as yet unknown illness.  Over the last few years I've encountered the remains of several carcasses that were well scavenged, but wrong somehow.  And by wrong I mean, the smell of the bones was off.  And there were large sections where flesh had sat and decayed rather than being consumed by scavengers.

That's just a guess though.  I'll leave the biology up to the biologists and hope that they figure something out before we no longer have a herd.  I love moose encounters in the woods.  They are so much fun to watch.

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