An ambitious and pioneering research project is scheduled to begin later this month to help answer why Minnesota’s moose population continues to decline.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) project will use the latest technology and an unprecedented amount of staff to learn more about moose mortality. It will build on research that is ongoing or planned by other agencies and universities.
“The decline in the northeast Minnesota moose population is exhibiting the same pattern of decline that we observed in the northwest,” said Lou Cornicelli, DNR wildlife research manager. “We’re losing about 20 percent of adult moose annually and know from previous studies that predation and hunting are not the primary causes of adult moose mortality. The decline is particularly troubling because more often than not, we can’t determine the primary cause of death.”
To better understand the causes of moose mortality, 75 cow and 25 bull moose will be captured in northeastern Minnesota and fitted with GPS collars that will track the animals’ movements. Wildlife researchers will also implant a second device in the digestive tracks of 27 of the collared moose to record the animal’s heartbeat and internal body temperature. If the device senses that the moose’s heart has stopped beating, the implant will instruct the GPS collar to notify researchers via a text message.
Once the text message is received, researchers will locate the moose within 24 hours to either retrieve the remains or conduct a field necropsy.
DNR developed this project to collect accurate and timely biological data on the moose’s physical condition and the likely cause of death before decomposition. If researchers can learn more about why moose are dying, that information may be used to help inform wildlife management decisions. This $1.2 million research project is funded by state’s Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.
Annual population estimates show that the northeastern Minnesota’s moose population declined significantly since 2008. The drop has prompted concern among wildlife experts, legislators, citizens, outdoor groups, and the tourism industry. Those concerns and strategies for researching causes for the decline and steps that may help slow that decline are outlined in the DNR’s moose research and management plan.
DNR wildlife researchers worked with a GPS collar manufacturing company to develop a new and innovative combination of technology, tracking and logging to create a never-before-used method of moose research.
“The approach we’re using is cutting edge,” Cornicelli said. “As far as we know, nowhere else in the world has any project captured, collared and tracked so many moose at one time.”
Each of the 100 adult moose captured and collared later this month will be tracked for the next six years. Six locations will be recorded each day for each moose. The collars will store that information, as well as ambient outside air temperature, and transmit those locations once each day to a central base station.
If a collar determines that a moose has not moved for six hours, the collar will text its location every 30 minutes for the next six hours so DNR researchers can find the animal within 24 hours. The timing is particularly important because fresh samples are key to identifying the cause of death.
After calving in spring, the locations of cows collared this winter will be used so their calves can be located, captured and fitted with collars that will provide similar data being collected from adults. Data from calves will provide much-needed information about calf survival and causes of morality.
Partners in the project include the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Fond Du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, 1854 Treaty Authority; and the University of Minnesota’s veterinary and wildlife departments.
Funding for this project by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund was recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources. The trust fund is a permanent fund constitutionally established by Minnesotans to assist in the protection, conservation, preservation, and enhancement of the state’s air, water, land, fish, wildlife, and other natural resources.
Additional information about the research project and moose in Minnesota are available on the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov/moose.
Logo courtesy Minnesota Department of Natural Resources