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A Talk on the Wild Side.

New Hampshire: Shorter Winters Mean More Ticks, Pose Big Threat to Moose

A moose with a clearly visible rib cage rests in murky water

Tick infestations can drain the blood supply of moose and can lead to malnutrition and death. In a year with average weather conditions, a moose will probably carry 30,000 ticks by late fall. In years with a late first snow fall, a moose could carry 160,000 ticks. Photo: Patrick Lafreniere. Download.

The average moose in New Hampshire stands about six feet tall at the shoulder and weighs about 1,000 pounds. Yet a creature smaller than the eraser on a pencil is a big threat to these massive animals, popular with both wildlife watchers and hunters.

The creatures posing the threat are winter ticks – Dermacentor albipictus. A New Hampshire Fish and Game Department study that began in 2001 collared and tracked moose and found winter ticks accounted for 41 percent of all moose deaths in the state over a five-year period. That was nearly the same percentage of collared moose killed by hunting and moose-vehicle collisions combined. Virtually all the calf deaths during the study were due to winter ticks.

New Hampshire Fish and Game Department researchers will spend the next several years studying the best way to accurately determine the numbers of ticks on moose and how that relates to mortality rates, as well as the changing climate.

According to a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, “rising temperatures over the past few decades have caused snow to become wetter and decreased the average number of snow-covered days across the state.” In looking toward the future, the report says climate change could see New Hampshire’s snow season shrink by almost 50 percent by mid-century.

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Wyoming: ‘Perfect Storm’ Fuels Mountain Pine Beetle Epidemic

An extreme closeup of a mountain pine beetle
Triggered by a “perfect storm” of extended droughts, warm winters, and old, dense forests, mountain pine beetle populations have exploded across a landscape of lodgepole pine trees throughout Colorado and southeastern Wyoming. Photo: USDA Forest Service. Download.

Lodgepole pine forests in parts of Wyoming and other areas of the Intermountain West are being infested by the native mountain pine beetle – a voracious bug smaller than your little fingernail that is thriving in a warming climate.

Triggered by a “perfect storm” of extended droughts, warm winters, and old, dense forests, mountain pine beetle populations have exploded across a landscape of lodgepole pine trees throughout Colorado and southeastern Wyoming.

The mountain pine beetle is a true predator on many western pine trees because to successfully reproduce, the beetles must kill host trees. They typically kill trees already weakened by disease or old age, but even a healthy tree’s defensive mechanisms can be exhausted when beetle numbers are at epidemic levels. The beetle attacks pines in late summer, dispersing a chemical signal that attracts other beetles to mass-attack the tree. When the beetles bore through the bark of the tree, they introduce blue-stain fungus, which can work quickly to kill the tree. Trees stressed by drought and old-age are unable to produce sufficient defenses to fend off beetle attacks. The beetles form tunnels and lay eggs underneath the bark, which hatch into larvae. The larvae spend the winter underneath the bark and emerge as adults in the summer, beginning the cycle again.

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Nebraska: Wetland Studies Provide Insight into Bird Habitat in a Changing Climate

Birds as far as the eye can see

Long-billed Dowitchers feeding. Joint venture scientists, the Great Plains Landscape Conservation Cooperative and state partners in Nebraska are working to develop science-based strategies that can help resource managers increase resilience of Rainwater Basin wetlands to climate change. Photo: Joel Jorgensen/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

During spring migration, as shorebirds, waterfowl and waterbirds make their way from wintering habitats to their northern breeding grounds, the broad Central flyway migratory corridors constrict in central Nebraska, funneling millions of birds through the state’s Rainwater Basin Wetland Complex. 

Rainwater Basin wetlands are shallow playa wetlands that fill each spring with snowmelt.  The flooded wetlands provide critical foraging habitat for millions of waterfowl and shorebirds annually.  While in the Rainwater Basin, birds acquire significant energy and nutrient reserves that they will need to continue migration and initiate nesting.   

In addition to providing critical resting habitat for birds, Rainwater Basin wetlands are the major source of groundwater recharge to the region’s aquifer – meaning they help replenish underground water, ensuring a sustainable supply for birds and humans.

During the past decade, the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture has acquired geo-referenced aerial photographs and is analyzing them in a Geographical Information System to monitor and delineate available habitat and contemporary wetland function.  With funding provided by the Great Plains Landscape Conservation Cooperative, joint venture scientists and their colleagues with Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the Nebraska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit are analyzing these data in the context of climate change. 

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