The University of Maine will investigate how various parasites, including the winter tick, affect the state’s moose herd in a three-year project beginning next year.
The project will be led by Pauline Kamath, an assistant professor of animal health, who received $148,492 from the Morris Animal Foundation to fund the project.
Kamath will study “how parasites affect moose survival and health to inform management strategies targeted at maintaining healthy populations of the large mammal in Maine and across North America,” according to a UMaine press release.
Kamath will join forces with Sandra De Urioste-Stone, associate professor of nature-based tourism in the School of Forest Resources; Anne Lichtenwalner, Extension veterinarian and associate professor and director of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory; Sabrina Morano, assistant research professor in the Maine Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Conservation Biology; and Lee Kantar, moose biologist with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Kantar has been leading the DIF&W’s research into moose, and over the last seven years moose with GPS collars have been tracked in order to provide data on winter survival. In addition, helicopter surveys have helped biologists get better population estimates for the state’s moose herd.
He said he’s eager to have even more data with which to formulate management decisions.
UMaine has been receiving blood and winter tick samples from those collared moose since 2017, and has been screening for intracellular blood parasites, including those from the genus Anaplasma and Babesia, which may be transmitted by ticks.
In Kamath’s project, titled “Evaluating the Impacts of Winter Ticks and Tick-borne Disease on Moose Survival,” the team will continue to screen for and evaluate the intensity of these parasite infections in moose.
“By combining infection data with information known on individual sex, age, location, condition, as well as nutritional, stress and anemia status, one of our goals is to identify risk factors for parasite infections in moose,” Kamath said.
The project will also seek input from those who enjoy spending time in the Maine woods, where they might encounter moose.
De Urioste-Stone will examine stakeholder risk perceptions and prioritization of wildlife management actions for reducing the negative impact of parasites on moose health.
“This study will help us to better understand how stakeholders like recreationists and managers perceive the role of parasites on the health of moose, and inform management strategies that reduce negative impacts of parasites on moose,” de Urioste-Stone said.
The group will also look at moose at a genetic level, identifying gene variants associated with tolerance to parasite infections.
“Ultimately, we will use these findings to build a comprehensive survival model to assess and predict the long-term viability of the Maine moose population,” Kamath said.