Aquatic macrophytes are seasonally important dietary resources for moose

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College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science


Moose (Alces alces) are generalist herbivores, but are important aquatic-terrestrial ecotone specialists. Aquatic macrophytes are a high-quality food source for moose during summer, but the importance of aquatic food sources to the moose diet is difficult to study. We used stable isotope analysis of carbon and nitrogen from moose hooves and forage (terrestrial plants, aquatic macrophytes, and arboreal lichen) to assess the diet of moose at Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA, using Bayesian mixing models. We also evaluated the isotopic variability along chronologies of serially sampled hooves. Overall, our mixing models indicate that 13%–27% of the summer moose diet was aquatic in origin. Among moose that died during winter, body condition was impaired and hoof δ15N was higher where aquatic habitats were sparse. Although isotope chronologies preserved in hooves could significantly enhance our understanding of ungulate foraging ecology, interpretation of such chronologies is presently limited by our lack of knowledge pertaining to hoof growth rate and seasonal growth variability related to age and health. Distinct isotopic values among terrestrial plants, aquatic macrophytes, and arboreal lichens indicate that continued methodological advances in stable isotope ecology will lead to more precise estimates of the contribution of aquatic feeding to moose population dynamics and other ungulates.

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