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5 December 2013 11:26 am ,
Vol. 342 ,
Dyslexia, a learning disability that hinders reading, hasn't been associated with deficits in vision, hearing, or...
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
Snake venoms are remarkably complex mixtures that can stun or kill prey within minutes. But more and more researchers...
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
Since arriving on the island of Guam in the 1940s, the brown tree snake ( Boiga irregularis ) has extirpated native...
An animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project filed lawsuits in three New York courts this week in an...
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
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Moose: Know Thine Enemy
8 February 2001 7:00 pm
The much-maligned moose--think of the thick-headed Bullwinkle--might not be quite so slow after all. New research suggests that moose are as quick witted as Rocky the Flying Squirrel when it comes to figuring out who their enemies are. The findings hint that prey can adapt quickly when new predators, such as wolves or bear, are introduced to a habitat.
Around the world, species are intermingling more abruptly than ever before. Wolves are being reintroduced into areas they haven't roamed for decades; bears are naturally expanding into new ecosystems due in part to greater legal protection. What does such shuffling of species mean, for instance, to a moose that has never seen a bear but is suddenly confronted by one?
To find out, a team led by conservation biologist Joel Berger of the University of Nevada, Reno, and the Wildlife Conservation Society in Bronx, New York, compared the behavior of different populations of moose in North America and Scandinavia. Some weren't familiar with predators (so-called naïve prey) and some were used to them. Berger and his co-workers in Norway found that when naïve moose were confronted with signs of predators, such as calls or scents, they didn't stop feeding and take aggressive stances like moose who were familiar with such threats did.
The researchers also found that moose mortality was higher at the edges of an expanding bear population than in the center of the bear population, leading them to conclude that moose with less exposure to predators were more likely to be killed. But this deadly naïvete was quickly reversible: Female moose whose calves were killed by wolves were dramatically more responsive to wolf calls, the team reports in the 9 February issue of Science. Such moose stopped feeding and looked around for predators for an average of 6 minutes when they heard a wolf call, compared to only 30 seconds for the naïve moose.
The research is good news for reintroduction programs, says wolf re-introduction expert David Mech of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. This study, Mech says, confirms researchers' previous assumption that the prey can take care of themselves. But, according to evolutionary biologist John Gittleman of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, the research raises the point that "it's not effective to do conservation science one species at a time. We need to be thinking along the lines of ecosystems."