Are Moose 'Canaries in the Coal Mine' for Climate Change?
As February rolls around in Minnesota, local hunters prepare for moose season. This Feb. 6, however, many were disappointed when the state cancelled the season altogether. The problem? Lack of moose.
Dwindling moose numbers have authorities and scientists worried. In the last seven years, population numbers in the state have dropped by 69 percent. In the last year alone, researchers logged a 35 percent decline.
The decision left experts wondering if the Moose would become the next victim of climate change. While some scientists are calling for more information, others are ready to chalk up the shift to global warming.
Moose are "the canary in the coal mine,” Doug Inkley, a senior scientist at the National Wildlife Federation, told USA Today. “As a large-bodied animal that needs cool temperatures, it is particularly susceptible to climate change."
In the fall, the state was also forced to ban hunting and instead decided to invest in a high-tech study of what is killing the moose.
A combination of factors seems to be at play. Warmer-than-normal summers are stressing the animals and, along with milder winters, increasing the survival rates of blood-sucking ticks that attack the moose. Up to 120,000 of these insects have been found on a single animal. They cause anemia and also force moose to rub up against trees and other objects, which reduces their coats and puts them at risk for hypothermia. Other threats could be a brain worm carried by deer or an increase in the wolf population—one of the moose’s primarily predators.
Based on the numbers, the moose population in Minnesota is the most stressed of any in the world. Stress on moose seesm to correspond to the latitude where they live. At higher latitudes, such as in Alaska and Maine, a cooler climate and vast, changing landscapes keep moose populations steady. However, in states farther south, such as Minnsota and New Hampshire, moose continue to deal with warmer winters, shrinking habitat, disease and predators.