They collar moose at Voyageurs National Park. And by doing this, biologists and ecologists can learn not only how the animals are coping with warming weather related to climate change, but how different land-management techniques affect them.
Later this month researchers plan to place collars on 19 more moose as part of a long-running study into climate change and population trends of the animals in and around the national park in northern Minnesota. Last year 14 moose were to be collared by crews from the park, the University of Minnesota-Duluth’s Natural Resources Research Institute, and the U.S. Geological Survey.
The high-tech collars carry GPS receivers designed to track each animal’s position every 20 minutes, according to park officials.
"A subset of daily locations will be transmitted to project investigators via the ARGOS satellite system, providing a remote system to monitor animal movements in near real-time," a park release said. "Standard VHF transmitters are part of each collar and can signal when a moose has died to allow quick retrieval of the collar and a determination of death, if possible."
The collars also are capable of monitoring both the temperature of the moose and the ambient air temperature, according to the release. They can store more than 24 months of location, sensor, and activity data, as well, and are programmed to automatically drop-off in the winter months of 2013.
Voyageurs biologists and ecologists are concerned about the long-term viability of its moose population given recent declines in moose populations in other parts of Minnesota and adjacent Ontario. Among factors possibly causing these declines are chronic stress related to warmer summer and winter temperatures, as well as lethal effects of parasites transmitted by white-tailed deer such as brainworm and liver flukes, the park noted.
Voyageurs National Park protects a moose population of between 50-90 animals based on recent surveys.
Data from 11 of the moose collared a year ago contains more than 50,000 GPS locations "documenting movements, activity, and ambient temperature throughout the year."
“Moose seek cooler temperatures on relatively hot days”, said Dr. Steve Windels, the park's terrestrial ecologist. “We will be able to identify forest and wetland types that moose use as cover when thermally stressed.”
Some collars might be placed on moose captured on state lands immediately adjacent to the national park in cooperation with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. As moose readily move between the park and adjacent lands where land management practices differ from those inside the park, park official say this will allow researchers study how moose "behave in relation to changes in forest structure and composition caused by management."
Moose will be captured using netguns fired from a single helicopter. Netted animals are carefully restrained to allow handlers to safely attach collars and collect data related to animal health. Blood and fecal samples will also be collected from each moose as part of a collaborative effort with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to assess moose population health throughout the State. The capture operation will be conducted by a private company, Quicksilver Air Inc., that specializes in the capture of wild animals from helicopters. Wildlife veterinarians from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will also be on-site.
Some snowmobile trails may be temporarily closed inside Voyageurs National Park to allow for safe capture operations while the helicopter is in the immediate vicinity of a snowmobile trail. Closed trails will be adequately marked or staffed by NPS personnel to alert park visitors. Closed trails may include the Chain of Lakes trail and the overland portages of the Ash River to Kettle Falls trail. The capture operation is expected to be completed in 2-3 days between the dates Jan 21-31, dependent on weather conditions. Updates regarding trail closures will be reported in the weekly winter trail conditions reports, which are available on our website at www.nps.gov/voya.
More information on other moose research occurring in Minnesota can be found at www.nrri.umn.edu/moose