Moose and Hares Benefit From Warming Climate in Alaska

By Dana Kobilinsky

A moose stands among shrubs in Alaska. Image Credit: Ken Tape

While polar bears and other marine mammals may be suffering negative impacts from warming temperatures, new research suggests that other terrestrial animals in Artic regions are benefitting from the increased availability of shrubs.

Ken Tape, an Arctic ecologist at the Institute of Northern Engineering at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and lead author of a study published in the journal Global Change Biology, looked at two species — moose (Alces alces) and snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus), both fairly new to Alaska’s North Slope — and how climate change may be helping support expansion of their populations.

The team examined historical trapping records and anthropological sources and found that moose, which were first reported in the North Slope around 1930, were not part of the traditional hunt in Arctic Alaska. “Moose came along when the shrubs showed up,” he said.

Snowshoe hares hadn’t been observed in the area before 1977, according to Tape. As part of their research, the team predicted shrub height from the 1960s to the present based on temperature. Their research showed that evidence of shrub expansion coincided with observational sightings of snowshoe hares.

The increase in moose and snowshoe hares in the area affects the ecosystem as well as wildlife management. Tape said more moose means possibly implementing moose hunts on the North Slope where there haven’t been any before. An increase in these two species also means more of their predators frequent the area such as lynx and birds of prey.

Further, new species being introduced can cause tundra specialist species that prefer open habitat to decline as their habitat disappears and they are outcompeted by moose and snowshoe hares coming from the South. “We need to be concerned about the loss of endemic species as the boreal species move north,” Tape said.

Dana KobilinskyDana Kobilinsky is a science writer at The Wildlife Society. Contact her at dkobilinsky@wildlife.org with any questions or comments about her article. You can follow her on Twitter at @DanaKobi.

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