EXTENDING BODY CONDITION SCORING BEYOND MEASUREABLE RUMP FAT TO ESTIMATE FULL RANGE OF NUTRITIONAL CONDITION FOR MOOSE
Moose (Alces alces) populations along the southern extent of their range are largely declining, and there is growing evidence that nutritional condition — which influences several vital rates – is a contributing factor. Moose body condition can presently be estimated only when there is measurable subcutaneous rump fat, which equates to animals with >6% ingesta-free body fat (IFBFat). There is need for a technique to allow body fat estimation of animals in poorer body condition (i.e., <6% body fat). We advance current methods for moose, following those used and validated with other ungulate species, by establishing a moose-specific body condition score (BCS) that can be used to estimate IFBFat in the lower range of condition. Our modified BCS was related strongly (r2 = 0.89) to IFBFat estimates based on measurable rump fat. By extending the predicted relationship to individuals without measurable fat, the BCS equated severe emaciation with 0.67% IFBFat, supporting the accuracy of the method. The lower end of nutritional condition is important for identifying relationships involving life-history characteristics because most state-dependent changes occur at lower levels of condition. Therefore, until the BCS can be validated with moose carcasses, we believe our method to estimate body fat across the full range of condition should yield better understanding of the drivers underlying declining moose populations.
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