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Paper birch (Betula papyrifera) shoot selection by moose (Alces alces) following a forest-cleaning experiment

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In order to maximize food intake per harvesting effort and minimize energy expenditures required to move between feeding patches in nature, herbivores such as moose (Alces alces L.) generally select large plant shoots when browsing in winter. To determine moose preferences for shoots of different morphologies, an experiment was conducted in northern British Columbia in which shoots from birches cut at different times of the growing season were fed in 2 consecutive years to eight human-habituated moose in cafeteria-style feeding trials. The results indicate that moose preferred smaller winter shoots of birches regardless of when the parent plant was cut and also appeared to reject larger shoots containing sylleptic branches. It is argued that the preferences for smaller shoots by moose detected in these trials should be observable under natural conditions, but are generally only supported by literature from some parts of Scandinavia. The findings underscore the importance that factors such as mouth filling per harvesting effort, snow depth and consistency, predators and browse patch distribution must have on foraging decisions made by moose while browsing in the wild. Implications of the findings include the significance of cutting time on the size of shoots produced by birch after cutting, how this affects moose browsing birch and, subsequently, how managers can theoretically use cutting time as a tool in forest cleaning operations to direct the foraging efforts of moose towards or away from forest plantations.

Keywords: Forage; plant response; plant-animal interaction; plantation; rangeland; ungulate

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Natural Resources and Environmental Studies Institute and Ecosystem Science and Management Program, University of Northern British Columbia, Prince George, British Columbia, Canada 2: John Prince Research Forest, Fort St. James, British Columbia, Canada 3: Department of Ecology and Natural Resource Management, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Ås, Norway 4: Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter, Smithers, BC, Canada

Publication date: April 1, 2010

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