Colorado mountains
From Long-Term Data to Understanding: Toward a Predictive Ecology
2015 LTER ASM Estes Park, CO - August 30 - September 2, 2015

Fire-mediated habitat use patterns of moose in boreal Alaska

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Casey Brown
Knut Kielland
Eugenie Euskirchen
Roger Reuss

Wildfire is the most common ecological disturbance in the boreal forest and recent studies predict that climate change will increase the frequency, extent, and severity of fire in Interior Alaska. Fire severity is an important control over post-fire production of deciduous species and can influence the overall quality of winter habitat for herbivores such as moose (Alces alces). The objective of this research is to evaluate the relative influence of a regenerating burn, paying particular attention to fire severity, on winter browse production and moose habitat use. We hypothesized that browse production and removal (kg/ha) estimates are greater in high severity sites than low severity sites and moose will exhibit higher rates of habitat utilization in high-severity habitat than low-severity habitat. We found that nearly 200 kg/ha of forage biomass was produced across all sites within the Hajdukovich Creek Burn, but production varied strikingly depending on the fire severity. High-severity sites produced 267 (SE=26) kg/ha and low-severity sites produced a mean of 172 (SE=16.) kg/ha. The proportion of annual browse production that was consumed by moose (offtake) also varied among fire severities. Offtake was greatest in high-severity sites with a proportional removal of 27% (SE=6%), whereas low severity sites experienced 11% (SE=4%) proportional removal. There was a significant difference in forage offtake between high-severity and low-severity sites (t=2.2, p=0.05). Results from dynamic Brownian bridge movement models suggest moose concentrated their use more in low severity sites  than high severity sites during the winter months. During summer, mooose used high severity sites more than low and moderate severity sites. As wildfire characteristics continue to change under a warming climate, managers can expect to see changes to plant species composition, wildlife distributions and hunting opportunities. The results from this project will contribute to our understanding of the effects of fire on an important wildlife resource in Interior Alaska.

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