Monteith, K.L., R.W. Klaver, K.R. Hersey, A.A. Holland, T.P. Thomas, and M.J. Kauffman. 2015. Effects of climate and plant phenology on recruitment of moose at the southern extent of their range. Oecologia 178-1137-1148.
Climate plays a fundamental role in limiting the range of a species, is a key factor in the dynamics of large herbivores, and is thought to be involved in declines of moose populations in recent decades. We examined effects of climate and growing-season phenology on recruitment (8–9 months old) of young Shiras moose (Alces alces shirasi) over three decades, from 18 herds, across a large geographic area encompassing much of the southern extent of their range. Recruitment declined in 8 of 18 herds during 1980–2009, whereas others did not exhibit a temporal trend (none showed a positive trend). During those three decades, seasonal temperatures increased, spring–summer precipitation decreased, and spring occurred earlier, became shorter in duration, and green-up occurred faster. Recruitment was influenced negatively by warm temperatures during the year before young were born, but only for herds with declining recruitment. Dry spring–summers of the previous year and rapid rates of spring green-up in the year of birth had similar negative influences across declining and stable herds. Those patterns indicate both direct (yeart) and delayed (yeart−1) effects of weather and plant phenology on recruitment of young, which we hypothesize was mediated through effects on maternal nutritional condition. Suppressed nutrition could have been induced by (1) increased thermoregulatory costs associated with warming temperatures and (2) shortened duration of availability of high-quality forage in spring. Progressive reductions in net energetic gain for species that are sensitive to climate may continue to hamper individual fitness and population dynamics.