Elk Update

More Cervid Contraception: GonaCon and ElkIn February, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission collared 11 elk for a study in north-central Nebraska. There are a few more details in this brief KOLN-TV report.

A new elk study in Montana got more coverage. There, 45 cow and 20 bull elk were fitted with tracking collars. Five of those were traditional radio collars, the rest were GPS collars. The two year study will investigate elk movement patterns and food. Read about it in the Ravalli Republic.

In Wyoming, the concern is the potential to spread of chronic wasting disease at the 22 artificial feeding stations run by the state and one at the National Elk Refuge. Read the opinion piece in the Jackson Hole News & Guide, here.

An opinion piece that is getting a lot of buzz ran in the New York Times recently. It says that wolves did not fix the Yellowstone ecosystem by preying on elk and allowing aspen to grow. No, the article says, the Yellowstone ecosystem is broken, and mere wolves can’t fix it. Read the article in the New York Times, here.

Photo of bull elk courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service


Moose Health in Montana and Minnesota

Minn moose collaringMontana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has begun a 10-year study of moose in the state to try to determine the cause of a 75 percent over the last 20 years, says an article in the Ravalli Republic. The article follows Montanta FWP biologist Nick DeCesare as he tracks one of his collared moose and finds that the moose is haggard, has blue eyes and appears to be blind — all symptoms of arterial worm.

Arterial worm is carried by mule deer, the article notes, and is carried by horseflies. (A situation similar to the brainworm that infects moose in the East, carried by white-tailed deer, although a snail is the vector there.) The arterial worm is a top suspect in moose declines in the West.

Read the whole article, with details of the study, in the Ravalli Republic, here. The article appeared in the newspaper through Science Source, a project of the University of Montana School of Journalism.

Last week a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources press release said that, “Aerial moose survey results for 2014 show no significant change in Minnesota’s moose population even though more animals were seen than last year.” Last year the estimate was 2,760, while in 2014 the estimate is 4,350. The department says the difference is statistically insignificant.

“The higher estimate this winter likely is related to ideal survey conditions rather than any actual increase in the population,” said Lou Cornicelli, wildlife research manager for the DNR. “This year’s heavy snows across northeastern Minnesota made it comparatively easy to spot dark-bodied moose against an unbroken background of white.”

The press release also mentions an adult and calf mortality study that is in its second year, and shows 21 percent mortality among adult moose and 74 percent mortality for calves. DNR will collar additional adults and calves to replace the ones that died in the study.

Read the Minnesota DNR press release here.
Read an article in the Austin (Minn.) Daily Herald, here.

Photo: courtesy Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Acoustic Method Best for Sampling Bats

State Wildlife Biologists Wanted for Bat SurveyFrom a US Geological Survey press release:

Recording bats’ echolocation “calls” is the most efficient and least intrusive way of identifying different species of bats in a given area, providing insight into some populations that have been decimated by white-nose syndrome.This new research by scientists from Virginia Tech, the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Army is published in the Journal of Ecology and the Natural Environment.

White-nose syndrome, an unprecedented disease of cave hibernating bats caused by a cold-loving fungus, has caused the deaths of more than six million bats. It has spread from central New York to at least 22 states and five Canadian provinces since 2006. In addition to the endangered Indiana bat, populations of the formerly abundant little brown bat and northern long-eared bat have experienced severe disease-related declines, particularly in the Northeast and central Appalachians.

“Acoustic sampling is a noninvasive sampling technique for bats, and its use often allows for the detection of a greater number of bat species in less time than traditional sampling methods such as netting,” said study co-author W. Mark Ford, a USGS scientist at the Virginia Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Virginia Tech. “Low population numbers make netting both time and cost prohibitive. Netting also has low capture rates for WNS affected species. Moreover, acoustic sampling minimizes the handling of bats, which lessens the chance of unintended cross-contamination and exposure to the white-nose fungus from one bat to another or from equipment and personnel to uninfected bats.”

Read the rest of the USGS press release here.
Read the paper (open access;PDF) here.

Photo: An acoustic bat detector in a roof-top car mount. Courtesy New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the bat survey coalition

Worse Year for Monarchs

Monarch_butterflyDepending on where you live, you may have noticed it in autumn. There were very few monarch butterflies around. It wasn’t unexpected. Numbers were low last winter in Mexico, and the weather over the summer didn’t favor the hatching of new monarchs.

World Wildlife Fund, Mexico’s Environment Department and the Natural Protected Areas Commission just announced that the numbers of monarch butterflies overwintering among the Transvolcanic mountains of central Mexico are the lowest since they started keeping records back in 1993. They measure the butterflies in the number of hectares that they cover in the park. This winter they covered 0.67 hectares. At their recorded high, in the winter of ’95-’96 they covered over 20 hectares.

Why, oh, why, do you ask? At one time the forest where the monarchs roost over the winter was being cut down, but that problem seems to have been solved. Climate change is in the mix. But the big problem, according to MonarchWatch, at the University of Kansas, is that herbicide tolerant (HT) crops have removed milkweed from a part of the country vital to the monarchs’ migration: the Midwest.

Read the report from MonarchWatch, here. It includes all the details on the HT crops theory.
Read the Associated Press news story in SF Gate, here.

Photo: by Mark Musselman, courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service

NH Studies Declining Moose

Moose-and-calves-USFWSBetween January 20 and February 2, 2014, the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game will be collaring moose in the northern part of the state to study moose decline, a department press release says. The state has contracted with Aero Tech Inc. to collar moose for the study.

The moose population in New Hampshire has declined about 50 percent in the past 20 years. While that decline is worrisome, it is no where near the decline seen in Minnesota, where in some parts of the state the population has declined by 50 percent in a single year. New Hampshire still sets an annual moose hunting season.

“While regional moose populations are indeed facing some serious threats, moose are not on the verge of disappearing from the New Hampshire landscape, but they are declining,” says Kristine Rines, NH’s moose team leader, in the release.

The press release says: “The current study will span three years. Over a two-year period, radio collars will be placed on about 80 moose cows and calves. A graduate student from the University of New Hampshire (UNH), which is partnering with Fish and Game in the study, will track the moose.

“The collared animals will be tracked for four years and monitored for as long as the collars keep transmitting…. Researchers will be looking closely at whether the increase in moose mortality and reduction in reproductive success in New Hampshire is because of winter tick, or if additional disease and parasite problems or other causes of mortality are in evidence.”

“If this trend is driven primarily by winter tick, then every year will be different, because weather is such a big player” [in the number of winter ticks and in winter tick moose mortality], Rines says in the release.

Read the NH Department of Fish and Game press release, here.
Read and watch the WBZ-TV story, here.

Photo: Moose and calves, courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service. This is the photo in the NH press release, although I previously got it from the source.



LA Mtn. Lions Need Overpass

mo mountain lionThere is a small population of mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains, just northeast of Los Angeles. The problem is, an article in the LA Times says, the population is hemmed in by highways, agricultural fields and the ocean, and is too small to be self-sustaining. Wandering male mountain lions typically die in traffic before reaching the enclave, causing inbreeding.

The solution, say some area conservationists, is a highway overpass. Twice before, funding for a wildlife tunnel under the roadways was rejected. The overpass would cost a lot more. The next step is funding from a local conservation group for the California Department of Transportation to study the overpass option.

Read the article in the Los Angeles Times, here.

Photo: courtesy Missouri Department of Conservation

Mapping Bears in Florida

bear tracksThe Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is asking citizens to report sightings of black bears or their tracks to a new mapping website. It is particularly interested in reports of females with cubs or of cubs alone, a press release states.

“Our bear range data is 11 years old, and we are excited about getting the public’s help in identifying all the places where bears now live in Florida,” said FWC bear research biologist Brian Scheick in the press release. “What we learn from the new bear sightings Web page will inform the FWC’s efforts to document bear distribution and help with future bear management decisions,” Scheick said.

The citizen science bear mapping project follows on the heels of a successful FWC effort to map fox squirrels. We covered it back in October 2011. And a more recent mink mapping effort, that we covered in July.

Read the FWC press release here.
Read an article in the Orlando Sentinel here.
Go to the FWC black bear sighting registry, here.

Tick, Tick, Tick, Moose

Moose-and-calves-USFWSFrom a New Hampshire Fish and Game press release:

New Hampshire Fish and Game is partnering with the University of New Hampshire in a major new research effort to learn more about the causes of moose mortality and how our changing weather patterns may be affecting both the causes and rates of mortality in our moose herd. Funded entirely by federal Wildlife Restoration dollars, this project updates and enhances the research we did from 2001-2006.


Over a two-year period, we will place radio collars on 80-90 adult moose cows and calves. A helicopter wildlife crew will capture and collar the animals. We will track the collared animals for four years, monitoring them for as long as the collars keep transmitting. We’ll be looking at how long the individuals live; and when they die, we’ll try to get there as soon as possible to determine cause of death. This research will help us determine what the mortality rate and causes are at this time. It seems to have increased since our last mortality research project. We want to know if mortality is being caused by winter tick or other factors. These answers will inform future management decisions.

Read the rest of the release, which mostly addresses the impact of winter tick mortality on New Hampshire’s moose population (the point being that the population has suffered, but it’s not about to disappear) here. It is in the form of a Q&A with award-winning moose biologist Kristine Rines.

NH Fish and Game winter tick press release/Q&A

Photo: A moose and calves from the NH Fish and Game press release, however, the name of the file indicates that it came from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Early Results in Minn. Moose Calf Study

Moose_CalfLate last month Minnesota Department of Natural Resources researchers collared 49 moose calves within hours of their birth, the Grand Forks Herald reports. Part of a larger study trying to solve Minnesota’s high moose mortality rate, the collared calves were born to collared mothers, a fact that allowed researchers to find them quickly after birth, the article says.

Results have come quickly, perhaps too quickly. Researchers knew that over half of all moose calves die within their first year. But already 22 of the calves, nearly half, have been found dead, mostly from predation by wolves and bears.

The study revealed other surprises. Of the moose that gave birth last month, 58 percent had twins, which was a higher rate than the researchers expected. They also found that the calves started eating plants earlier than had been previously thought.

The article says that the high adult death rate is the big issue in Minnesota, but a low rate of survival for calves is another concern. The 22 necropsies that will be performed on the dead moose calves should shed light on the issue.

More details in the Grand Forks Herald article, here.

Photo: A moose calf, although not from this study. By Leroy Anderson, courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service.


USGS Calculates How Fast Amphibians Are Falling

Green_Tree_Frog_in_pitcher_plant_Cressler_photoThere have been studies that have calculated the likelihood of extinction for various amphibian species, but the first study to calculate how fast amphibian populations are declining was recently published in PLoS ONE.

The study found that amphibians disappeared from their habitats at a rate of 3.7% per year from 2002 to 2011. Species that are red-listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) disappeared at an average of 11.6% annually.

“Even though these declines seem small on the surface, they are not,” said US Geological Survey ecologist Michael Adams, the lead author of the study in a press release. “Small numbers build up to dramatic declines with time. We knew there was a big problem with amphibians, but these numbers are both surprising and of significant concern.”

Read the PLoS ONE article, here. (Open access.)
Read the USGS press release on the paper, here.
Read a Washington Post article that is mostly about the rate of amphibian decline, here.

Photo: A green tree frog (Hyla cinerea) sits on the lip of a pitcher plant in a bog in Alabama. Photo by Alan Cressler, used courtesy USGS.