Friday, October 12, 2007

Save a Moose, Build a Road...

At a glance that is what you might decide after reading about recent work by Joel Berger (of the Wildlife Conservation Society) on moose in the Yellowstone and Grand Tetons national park. If you have driven through Yellowstone recently you may have felt like you were on some grand wildlife safari. There are tons of animals along the road including moose, elk, bison, deer, and even big horn sheep. Berger's research shows that this isn't because these animals are densely populated throughout the park, but rather that some of them are attracted to the roads as a mechanism for predator avoidance.

For 9 years Berger monitored the location of 25 birthing moose mothers. He reported that, on average, the pregnant mothers moved 122 meters closer to the roads during each consecutive year. He suggests moose are moving closer to the roads to avoid predation on their young calves, especially by brown bears. It is thought that the bears avoid the roads due to past persecution which lead to immigration of back country bears into vacant territories. These individuals who have had no human contact are likely more wary of roads.

As for the Parks, they are worried that the few roads they have allowed could be affecting the ecosystem so profoundly. There is hope however that as bears become more familiar with roads they too will adapt and that the system will return to a more "normal" state. For instance bears in Alaska are used to roads and consequently pregnant moose don't seem to show the same attraction to them.

Depending on your mindset you might think this adaptive behavior of moose is great because less cute little calves will be killed. Or maybe you are more concerned about the majestic brown bears that rely on successful predation to be able to have cubs of their own. Regardless, it is interesting that the moose have adapted a natural predator avoidance behavior to incorporate a very unnatural system, roads.

Posted by Kyle McCarthy (3)


At 9:21 PM, Blogger PWH said...

I thought this was a very interesting and well written article. I never would have guessed that seeing moose and other animals while out driving would be because they are avoiding predation. Seems like they've developed a pretty effective and unique behavior.

Posted by Elizabeth Adams

At 9:54 PM, Blogger PWH said...

While this does seem like a good way to avoid predation by bears and other animals, I wonder if there are any problems that have come from this migration towards the roads. It would be interesting to find out if there are more incidences with moose in the roads and any problems that may cause.

Posted by Hollis Martin


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