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Effects of climate and plant phenology on recruitment of moose at the southern extent of their range

Abstract

Climate plays a fundamental role in limiting the range of a species, is a key factor in the dynamics of large herbivores, and is thought to be involved in declines of moose populations in recent decades. We examined effects of climate and growing-season phenology on recruitment (8–9 months old) of young Shiras moose (Alces alces shirasi) over three decades, from 18 herds, across a large geographic area encompassing much of the southern extent of their range. Recruitment declined in 8 of 18 herds during 1980–2009, whereas others did not exhibit a temporal trend (none showed a positive trend). During those three decades, seasonal temperatures increased, spring–summer precipitation decreased, and spring occurred earlier, became shorter in duration, and green-up occurred faster. Recruitment was influenced negatively by warm temperatures during the year before young were born, but only for herds with declining recruitment. Dry spring–summers of the previous year and rapid rates of spring green-up in the year of birth had similar negative influences across declining and stable herds. Those patterns indicate both direct (year t ) and delayed (year t−1) effects of weather and plant phenology on recruitment of young, which we hypothesize was mediated through effects on maternal nutritional condition. Suppressed nutrition could have been induced by (1) increased thermoregulatory costs associated with warming temperatures and (2) shortened duration of availability of high-quality forage in spring. Progressive reductions in net energetic gain for species that are sensitive to climate may continue to hamper individual fitness and population dynamics.

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife for data provision, and the associated managers and biologists that carefully collected composition data used in this study. We thank T. Bowyer and anonymous reviewers for comments on previous drafts of this manuscript. Funding for this project was provided by Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Safari Club International Foundation, and Wyoming Governor’s Big Game License Coalition. Any mention of trade, product, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the United States Government.

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Correspondence to Kevin L. Monteith.

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Communicated by Göran C Ericsson.

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Monteith, K.L., Klaver, R.W., Hersey, K.R. et al. Effects of climate and plant phenology on recruitment of moose at the southern extent of their range. Oecologia 178, 1137–1148 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-015-3296-4

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Keywords

  • Alces alces
  • Climate change
  • Heat stress
  • Irruptive paradigm
  • Nutrition