AVAILABILITY AND USE OF MOOSE BROWSE IN RESPONSE TO POST-FIRE SUCCESSION ON KANUTI NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, ALASKA

Erin Julianus, Teresa N. Hollingsworth, A. David McGuire, Knut Kielland

Abstract


Wildfire is a prominent landscape-level disturbance in interior Alaska and associated vegetation changes affect quantity and quality of moose (Alces alces) habitat. These changes are important to land and wildlife managers responsible for managing habitat and ensuring sustained yield of game species such as moose. Considering the changing fire regime related to climate change, we explored post-fire dynamics of moose habitat to broaden understanding of local habitat characteristics associated with wildfire on the Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge in interior Alaska. We studied 34 sites in different aged stands (2005 burn, 1990 burn, 1972 burn, and unburned in the last 80 years) in August 2012 and 2013 to estimate summer browse density, biomass production, and browse use, and revisited each site the following March to estimate winter browse availability and offtake. We also used location data from 51 radio-collared moose to quantify use of burns on the Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge. We found that summer density and biomass of preferred browse was highest at sites in the 1990 burn, although use of burns varied seasonally. Despite high biomass in the most recent 2005 burn, radio-collared moose avoided burns <11 years old in summer and had preference for older stands (>30 years old). Winter browse offtake was highest in the 1990 and 1972 burns despite relatively high biomass available in the 2005 burn. The disparate use of burns, particularly low use of the 2005 burn, likely reflected a combination of influences including species composition and preference, predator avoidance strategies, a low density moose population, and historic moose distribution patterns.

Keywords


Moose habitat; habitat selection; wildfire; browse

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