Our April sampling ended soon after our Soda Butte trip. We took advantage of what little snow was left and were able to sample a few more moose. We then shifted gears a little at the end of April entering data, shipping pellets out for DNA analysis, measuring pellets, and getting ready for the 49th International Moose Conference in
Granby, Colorado. We even took a two day birding trip which took us into the Park Interior and out the West Yellowstone entrance where we did a 60 mile driving loop and stopped along the way at some notable birding spots. Henry and Hebgen Lakes were the highlights were we saw thousands of waterfowl.
The conference was well attended by many moose biologists and managers across North America. All the Rocky Mountain States were represented, a few of the Canadian provinces, Minnesota sent a group of moose researchers, and we had moose biologists from Vermont-Cedric Alexander, NH-Kris Rines, and Maine-Lee Kantar. It was great to see the New England people there. Myself and one of our collaborators from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Tessa Tjepkes, were the only ones presenting moose research involving the use of non-invasive methods for estimating moose population parameters so many people were excited to hear about our work. I don’t doubt the methods we have been demonstrating in Yellowstone will be used in other regions of the western U.S. in the near future.
We also just completed our first round of genotype testing from the 270 pellet samples we collected in the winter of 2013-2014 and were able to identify 87 individual moose living on Yellowstone’s Northern Range. As we dissect the data a little more we may find a few more but this is pretty close to what we were expecting. Now that we know what samples came from which individual, we can apply pregnancy hormone data to each cow to determine if she was pregnant. Doing this with all the moose will give us the population pregnancy rate of northern Yellowstone moose. Knowing how many cows and bulls we have will let us estimate population sex ratio. One bull for every cow, or a 1:1 ratio, is typical of a non-hunted population. We are excited to see what we get with this! We can also now look at winter movements and estimate winter home range size because we keep track of all the locations where we picked up the samples. For example, we sampled one bull 8 times over the winter and could see him travel through three different stream drainages. We are excited because the information we are getting from moose non-invasively is just as good or better than what could be gathered through traditional means, i.e. capture the animal using a helicopter, take blood for pregnancy testing, pull a tooth for aging, radio collar it, and then follow it around periodically (often from a plane) to record its location. In comparison to the non-invasive methods we are using, traditional methods are costly and very stressful and sometimes fatal to the study animal.
I just got back home to Vermont on May 5th and am happy to be here! The snow is gone and the leaves are popping. The poplars are already beginning to leaf out. Lisa is spending three more weeks in the Park to train the person who will be running the summer predation study, which is the summer version of what Lisa was doing in the winter. Lisa will only be able to download one GPS collar, at least for the beginning of the summer, because the other two wolves that have been fitted with GPS collars have gone off on their own somewhere and haven’t been seen with their packs in several weeks. Hopefully, they will return soon. Lisa has a good summer crew, including two bear researchers from Norway, but she is really looking forward to getting back home – it has been a long winter!
As far as the moose study goes, we will be processing and analyzing our data this summer and will have our second annual report out by September 1st. We’ll post it on our blog when we do. Thanks for joining us on our adventures this winter and we look forward to sharing more next winter. Have a good summer!