Shirasi moose of Kamiak Butte: a parapatric speciation tale
Shirasi Moose (Alces alces shirasi)
By: William E. Schlosser, Ph.D.
Date: March 2021
Moose (Alces alces) originated as a species in Asia as evidenced by fossil records in the Miocene Era (DuTemple, 2001). When originally filling their niche, they came into the record at about the size of today’s house cat! They did not have antlers, they had tusks. Obviously the moose-filling niche witnessed this ungulate enlarging in size and forming antlers from the hairs on its head. Those tusks are still there, much shorter, today we call them Ivories on the upper jaw. All elk species (Cervus canadensis) have them too, but those tusks are the size of the surrounding molars.
Figure. 1 Shirasi Moose pictured at Kamiak Butte (Virtual Foresty, 2020)
Look for Alces species around the world, but you will find them in the northern hemisphere and see seven subspecies, or varieties, each fitting in the Alces alces genesis-species (DuTemple, 2001). This ungulate is in the first stage of speciation, where parapatric speciation has facilitated their genetic tour (Schlosser, 2021). Shiras moose bulls are the smallest variety of moose in North America, standing only at about 6.0 feet (1.8 meters) tall at the shoulders. They weigh up to 1,200 pounds (540 kg). Their demur size is an adaptation to the warmer climate of this region, as compared to others in this cadre living in Alaska, Yukon, or the northeastern reaches of this continent.
The Alces alces shirasi moose received its scientific name from Edward W. Nelson in 1914. He was a member of the US Bureau of Biological Survey and this Shiras name was given in respect to his friend and associate, George Shiras III a U.S. Representative from the state of Pennsylvania. He was a nature photographer sometimes called “the father of wildlife photography” for his early use of camera traps and flash photography (Allardyce, 2021).
Figure. 2 Shirasi Moose (Virtual Forestry, 2020)
Moose have extended their range southwards in the western Rocky Mountains, with initial sightings in Yellowstone National Park in 1868 (Wolfe, Hersey, & Stoner, 2017). Moose presence was first documented within Washington state in 1954 when a shed antler was found at Sema Meadows and in 1955 a yearling cow carcass was found on Kalispell Creek in Pend Oreille County (Base, 2004). In 1965, Lloyd Ingles, a renowned mammologist, reported “no known moose population” in the Pacific States (WA, OR, CA). These investigative surveys did not have the advantage of remote cameras to aid in their species presence efforts.
Today, moose presence in this region is confirmed and they inhabit primarily northeast Washington including Spokane, Pend Oreille, Stevens, Ferry, and Whitman counties. Moose have also been observed in Lincoln, northern Okanogan, Whatcom counties and recently in the Blue Mountains of southeastern Washington (Asotin, Garfield, and Columbia Counties). Moose are fairly common in the mountains of eastern Washington, but also tend to be solitary by nature. They seek out the cooler, moister drainages and northerly slopes.
While they can be found at any elevation, they are most likely found in the 3,000 to 5,000 foot elevation range. In the fall they prefer browse, primarily willows that grow in brushy forest plantations or in one to two decade old forest burns. In the fall and early winter moose seem to seek out snow, rather than avoid it. At Kamiak Butte, Shiras Moose have been captured on remote wildlife cameras in the autumn, and in neighborhood yards in March.
Figure. 3 Shirasi Moose pictured 2 miles south of Kamiak Butte. (Henderickson, 2021)
When heat-stressed, moose may fail to adequately forage in summer and may not gain adequate body fat to survive the winter. Moose cows may not calve without adequate summer weight gain. Moose require access to both young forest for browsing and mature forest for shelter and cover. Forests disturbed by fire and logging promotes the growth of forage materials for moose. Moose prefer access to mineral licks, safe places for calving and aquatic feeding sites (Rines, 2018).
Moose avoid areas with little or no snow as this increases the risk of predation. American black bears (Ursus americanus) and cougars (Puma concolor) can be significant predators of moose calves in May and June and can, in rare instances, prey on adults (mainly cows rather than the larger bulls) (Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife , 2011). Moose select habitat on the basis of trade-offs between risk of predation, food availability, and snow depth (Dussault, et al., 2005). Washington and Idaho have the smallest moose subspecies in North America, weighing about 230 to 344 kg (507 to 758 lb) at maturity.
Moose as a species occupy a massive range, containing diverse habitats. In the western North American Continent, moose populations extend north into Canada (British Columbia, Alberta, Yukon Territory), and Alaska. Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming have documented populations of Shiras moose (Base, 2004). Isolated groups have been verified in the mountains of Utah and Colorado and as far west as the Lake Wenatchee, Washington. Moose range includes Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and smaller areas of Washington and Oregon (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2009). There are seven subspecies, or varities of moose:
Figure. 4 Range map of Shirasi Moose in North America. (DuTemple, 2001)
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Allardyce, M. (2021). A. a. shirasi Moose. Retrieved March 17, 2021, from All-About-Moose.com: https://www.all-about-moose.com/shirasi-moose.html
Base, D. (2004). Moose Status and Hunting in Washington. Olympia: Wa Dept. Fish and Wildlife. Retrieved March 17, 2021, from http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/game/hunter/gametrails/2004/moose_status.htm
Dussault, C., Ouellet, J.‐P., Courtois, R., Huot, J., Breton, L., & Jolicoeur, H. (2005). Linking moose habitat selection to limiting factors. Ecography , 28(no. 5), 619-628.
DuTemple, L. (2001). North American Moose. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, Inc.
Hendrickson, M. (2021). Sharasi Moose. Shirasi Moose in Yard. Washington State University, Palouse, WA. Retrieved from https://www.virtual-forestry.org/moose-2/
Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife . (2011). Moose Hunting Permit. the Wayback Machine. Retrieved from https://www.maine.gov/ifw/hunting-trapping/moose-permit.html
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. (2009). Moose Move In. COnservation, Salem. Retrieved from https://www.dfw.state.or.us/conservationstrategy/news/2009/2009_october.asp#moose
Rines, K. (2018). New Hampshire’s moose population vs climate change. New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.
Schlosser, W.E. (2021). Parapatric Speciation of Elk (Cervus canadensis). Pullman, WA: D&D Larix, LLC. Retrieved 2021, from https://youtu.be/7MU9ADWrjvk
Schlosser, W.E. (2021, March 28). Shirasi Moose. Retrieved from Virtual Forestry: https://www.virtual-forestry.org/moose-2/
Wolfe, M., Hersey, K., & Stoner, D. (2017, December). A History of Moose Management in Utah. ALCES, VOL. 46, 37-52. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/257449101_A_HISTORY_OF_MOOSE_MANAGEMENT_IN_UTAH