DeBow, J., J. Blouin, E. Rosenblatt, K. Gieder, W. Cottrell, J. Murdoch, and T. Donovan. 2021. Effects of winter ticks and internal parasites on moose survival in Vermont, USA. Journal of Wildlife Management. DOI: 10.1002/jwmg.22101
Moose (Alces alces) have experienced considerable declines along the periphery of their range in the northeastern United States. In Vermont, the population declined 45% from 2010 to 2017 despite minimal hunter harvest and adequate habitat. Similarly, nearby populations recently experienced epizootics characterized by >50% mortality. Declines have largely been associated with the effects of winter ticks (Dermacentor albipictus), but uncertainty exists about the effects of environmental and other parasite-related conditions on moose survival. We examined patterns of moose survival among a radio-collared population (n = 127) in Vermont from 2017 to 2019. Our objectives were to estimate causes of mortality and model survival probability as a function of individual and landscape variables for calves (<1 yr) and adults (≥1 yr). Observed adult survival was 90% in 2017, 84% in 2018, and 86% in 2019, and winter calf survival was 60% in 2017, 50% in 2018, and 37% in 2019. Winter tick infestation was the primary cause of mortality (91% of calves, 25% of adults), and 32% of all mortalities had evidence of meningeal worm (Parelaphostrongylus tenuis). Other sources of mortality such as vehicles, harvest, predation, deep snow, and other parasitic infections were negligible. The best supported calf model included sex differences and negative effects of tick engorgement (%/week) and parasite level (roundworm and lungworm). The best supported adult model included the effect of cumulative tick engorgement (cumulative %/week), which negatively affected survival. Our results indicate that winter tick engorgement strongly affects survival, and is probably compounded by the presence of meningeal worm and other parasites. Reduced tick effects may be achieved by decreasing moose density through harvest and managing late winter habitat to minimize tick density. Management of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) density may also affect the transmission of meningeal worm.