A changing climate may be responsible for Vermont's dwindling moose population, according to scientists with the state's Department of Fish and Wildlife.
During the first year of an ongoing multi-year study, biologists in Vermont report that nearly half of the moose being tracked via radio collars have already died. That's despite a significant reduction of moose-hunting permits issued by the state, according to Vermont Public Radio, and seems linked to warmer, wetter weather that boosts parasites like ticks and brainworms.
According to Vermont Fish and Wildlife, "The ticks are becoming more prolific as spring and fall weather has warmed in recent years, causing some moose to collapse from blood loss or die from hypothermia after rubbing their insulating hair off in an attempt to rid themselves of the parasite."
The state plans to track all surviving radio-collared moose for the remainder of the study, Vermont Public Radio reports, and will collar an additional 30 calves in each of the second and third years.
These radio-collared moose, as well as others observed directly by biologists over the next two years, will help reveal causes of mortality — including death from parasites — and potential threats from warming temperatures and habitat fragmentation. Similar studies are occurring in New Hampshire, Maine and New York.
“It is important that we understand how much these factors are affecting our moose population in Vermont," said Cedric Alexander, Vermont Fish and Wildlife’s lead moose biologist, in a statement earlier this year. "Our moose conservation efforts must be based on a strong foundation of science if we are to understand and address these threats in the long term."
Editor's note: This story has been updated since it was originally published in January 2017.