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Does off-trail backcountry skiing disturb moose?

Abstract

The advancement of recreational activities into wildlife habitat calls for a better knowledge about the effects of human-induced disturbances, particularly in systems where humans dominate wildlife mortality. We exposed nine adult free-ranging female moose repeatedly to off-trail backcountry skiing to study moose behavior and habituation using a controlled field experiment in Northern Sweden. Moose response was short-term, but distinct. Moose moved 33-fold faster during the first hour following disturbance, resulting in almost a doubling of the energetic usage per kilogram body weight. Movement rates increased 3 h following disturbances, came along with enlarged activity ranges at the day of disturbance, and resulted in moose leaving the original area. We found no evidence for habituation. Because of the short-term response, the effect of single skiing disturbance events on the overall energy budget of large-bodied animals in good body condition is likely to be negligible. We recommend off-trail skiers to avoid following wildlife tracks because such disturbances bear risk for more severe consequences on wildlife's energy budget if wildlife resists habituation, if an animal's risk perception is high, or when the frequency of disturbance increases.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the EU/Interregional IIIA project Moose in Midscandinavia, the project Moose Management in Västerbotten, the program Adaptive Management of Fish and Wildlife, the Swedish Association for Hunting and Wildlife Management, and the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency for the financial support. We are grateful to Eric Andersson and Åke Nordström for their help with the fieldwork. We thank Nils Bunnefeld for the helpful comments. The Animal Care Committee for Northern Sweden at Umeå approved the project (Dnr A124-05 2005-11-15), which was carried out in accordance with the Swedish laws concerning animal research ethics. All personnel were certified according to the standards of the Swedish Animal Welfare Agency and the Swedish Board of Agriculture.

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Correspondence to Wiebke Neumann.

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Communicated by W. Lutz

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Neumann, W., Ericsson, G. & Dettki, H. Does off-trail backcountry skiing disturb moose?. Eur J Wildl Res 56, 513–518 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10344-009-0340-x

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Keywords

  • Experimental disturbances
  • Human impact
  • Individual-based analysis
  • Alces alces
  • Sweden