Across much of North America, populations of moose (Alces alces) are declining because of disease, predation, climate change, and anthropogenic-driven habitat loss. Contrary to this trend, populations of moose in Colorado, USA, have continued to grow. Studying successful (i.e., persistent or growing) populations of moose can facilitate continued conservation by identifying habitat features critical to persistence of moose. We hypothesized that moose using habitat with higher quality willow (Salix spp.) would have a higher probability of having a calf-at-heel (i.e., calving success). We evaluated moose calving success using repeated ground observations of collared individuals with calves in an occupancy model framework to account for detection probability. We then evaluated the impact of willow habitat quality and nutrition on moose calving success by studying 2 spatially segregated populations of moose in Colorado. Last, we evaluated correlations between willow characteristics (browse intensity, height, cover, leaf length, and species) and willow nutrition (dry matter digestibility [DMD]) to assess the utility of using those characteristics to assess willow nutrition. We found willow height and cover had a high probability of being positively associated with higher individual-level calving success. Willow DMD, browse intensity, and leaf length were not predictive of individual moose calving success; however, the site with higher mean DMD consistently had higher mean estimates of calving success for the same year. Our results suggest surveying DMD is likely not a useful metric for assessing differences in calving success of individual moose but may be of use at population levels. Further, the assessment of willow morphology and density may be used to identify areas that support higher levels of moose calving success.
- Alces alces
- calving success