Moose (Alces alces) first returned to the Adirondack region of New York in the 1980s after being absent from the state for over 120 years. In order to effectively manage the population, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) conducts population and habitat surveys to determine how many moose currently live in and can be supported by the region. To help assess population health, we examine and test samples from moose to understand reproductive status, infectious disease exposure, parasite load, and causes of death.
Despite adequate habitat and high rates of successful reproduction, the moose population has not increased as expected. Moose across New England have experienced declines from winter ticks (Dermacentor albipictus) and deer brainworm (Parelaphostrongylus tenuis), and we have detected these parasites, among others, in New York. From live and necropsied moose samples gathered between 2015 and 2017, we determined that these parasites, along with giant liver flukes (Fascioloides magna), tapeworms (Echinococcus), and Neospora caninum, are major threats to moose health. However, we do not know the extent to which these parasites may be negatively impacting the local population.
The WHP is a partner in a multi-institutional study of moose populations in the Adirondacks. Our latest project, which began in early 2021, will investigate the impacts of this suite of local parasites on moose individual and population health. We plan to capture and collar juvenile moose to determine rates of survival, assess causes of mortality, and quantify the impact of parasites on population growth. To understand the risk of infection for moose on the landscape, we will also assess parasite prevalence in intermediate (aquatic gastropod) and definitive (white-tailed deer) hosts. This will complement our previous three-year study that examined deer fecal samples and terrestrial gastropods to identify risk factors in the Adirondacks.
The WHP participates in a northeast moose health cooperative, a network that shares information and has initiated a project to identify hosts for these parasites. This information will generate a parasite risk map for moose in the Adirondacks that can help support population management programs. Additionally, we are collaborating with SUNY-ESF to develop PCR tests for Echinococcus and Neospora in canid feces to better understand these parasite cycles. All collected information will help inform moose management in New York and help ensure a healthy and sustainable moose population