USING SNOW URINE SAMPLES TO ASSESS THE IMPACT OF WINTER TICKS ON MOOSE CALF CONDITION AND SURVIVAL
Keywords:creatinine, epizootic, New Hampshire, nutritional restriction, snow urine, urea nitrogen, winter ticks
Snow urine samples collected in northern New Hampshire, USA were used to measure urea nitrogen (UN) and creatinine (C) content to develop ratios for tracking the nutritional restriction of individual moose (Alces alces) through winter (2014–2017), inclusive of the adult winter tick (Dermacentor albipictus) engorgement period. Samples (n = 215) were collected from 55 moose (38 calves, 17 cows) on a twice monthly schedule from late January through snowmelt or calf mortality (March – early April). Early winter UN:C ratios from cows, surviving calves, and calves that ultimately died from infestation of winter ticks were similar and reflected a normal winter diet low in protein. A heightened UN:C ratio (> 3.5 mg/dL) was measured in March which aligned with peak feeding by adult winter ticks, and presumably reflected accelerated protein deficit associated with blood loss. This increase was not observed population-wide despite shared habitat, occurring only in calves with mortal weight loss and anemia associated with heavy winter tick infestation. Measurement of UN:C ratios from snow urine samples proved an effective method to measure the temporal impact of winter tick infestation, and March samples can support other metrics used to estimate calf mortality.
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