Date of Award

2022

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Natural Resources

First Advisor

Therese Donovan

Second Advisor

James Murdoch

Abstract

Wildlife populations around the globe are facing numerous, complex challengesto their persistence, yet conservation efforts are hindered by limited information about these populations and the anthropogenic pressures they face. North American moose (Alces alces americana), despite being of ecological, cultural, and economical importance, inhabit remote landscapes, making population monitoring difficult. At the same time, many moose populations, including in Vermont and eastern North America, have experienced recent declines mainly due to winter tick (Dermacentor albipictus) epizootics. Anthropogenic landscape change and climate-mediated pressures pose future challenges for moose across the southern extent of their distribution. Though impacts of winter tick infestation on population vital rates have been well-studied, there has been little research on how moose population genetics and physiological responses interplay with current and future challenges posed by parasites, climate change, and increasing anthropogenic pressures. This dissertation addresses these knowledge gaps by 1) developing a novel approach for estimating wildlife abundance in cases where common abundance measures are difficult to implement, 2) describing the genetic diversity and connectivity of moose populations across the northeastern United States and Southern Quebec, and 3) identifying drivers and fitness implications of stress hormone and nutritional restriction dynamics in Vermont’s highest density moose population. Using a simulated moose population, this dissertation advanced the use of pedigree reconstruction as an abundance estimator, which appeared particularly useful for low-density populations. Genetic samples from moose across five U.S. states and a Canadian province indicated low measures of genetic diversity yet provides evidence of genetic connectivity that will likely be challenged by future climate, habitat, and population conditions. Finally, several climate, habitat, and parasite variables impacted stress metabolite concentrations and nutritional restriction of radio-collared moose calves, both of which related to winter survival probability. This effort supports novel means of monitoring wildlife populations using data that can be acquired non-invasively and illustrates the compounding suite of challenges facing moose in eastern North America.

Language

en

Number of Pages

195 p.

Available for download on Saturday, April 22, 2023

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