Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Graduate students working with Dr. Oakley research Lynx and Moose in Yukon


February 28, 2019

A Canadian graduate student working with Haines’ veterinarian Michelle Oakley to research the boom and bust cycle of lynx in the Yukon presented her findings at the American Bald Eagle Foundation on Feb. 15.

Rachel Derbyshire, a master’s student from Trent University in Ontario, wants to learn how lynx change behavior as their primary prey population declines.

The lynx population cycle closely mirrors their primary prey, the snowshoe hare, by about one to two years, Derbyshire said.

“As snowshoe populations decline, a couple of years later lynx populations also decline,” she said. “When snowshoe hare populations increase, lynx populations respond by also increasing.”

Derbyshire is studying lynx behavior by trapping and collaring them in the Yukon’s Kluane region. The collars are fit with a GPS, microphone and accelerometer that, like a Fitbit, measures activity and collects information.

Oakley collars the animals at her satellite clinic in Haines Junction.

From audio feedback and GPS data, Derbyshire determined that lynx are spending more time in groups.

“We generally think of lynx as very solitary creature,” she said. “But maybe they’re not as solitary as we originally thought.”

As the hare population begins to decline, Derbyshire said she’ll compare historical data with what she observed. She’ll conduct her research for three more years.

Delpine De Pierre, a biology student at Laval University in Quebec, also presented her ongoing master’s project on the effects of winter ticks on moose calves in New Brunswick, Canada.

De Pierre works with Dr. Oakley to capture the moose for collaring in eastern Canada.

The winter ticks are not yet a problem in Alaska, though they’ve been found on deer and elk between Whitehorse and Haines Junction, Oakley said.“The ticks are only deadly for moose,” she said. “It would be a big problem if the ticks were brought to Alaska, especially in areas of high moose density.”

Moose can be infested with tens of thousands of winter ticks, which causes hair loss and behavioral change like loss of appetite and loss of energy, De Pierre said.

Winter ticks attach themselves to moose in the fall and remain on the animal until laying eggs, falling off their host and dying in the summer. “As we have shorter winters and earlier springs, the ticks can survive better than they used to,” she said.

Warmer winters have caused moose to travel further north, spreading the parasite across wider populations.


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