The level of habitat patchiness influences movement strategy of moose in Eastern Poland
Spatio-temporal variation in resource availability leads to a variety of animal movement strategies. In the case of ungulates, temporally unpredictable landscapes are associated with nomadism, while high predictability in the resource distribution favours migratory or sedentary behaviours depending on the spatial and temporal scale of landscape dynamics. As most of the surveys on moose (Alces alces) movement behaviours in Europe have been conducted on Scandinavian populations, little is known about the movement strategies of moose at the southern edge of the species’ range. We expected that decreasing habitat patchiness in central Europe would be associated with the prevalence of migratory behaviours. To verify this hypothesis, we analysed 32 moose fitted with GPS collars from two study areas in eastern Poland which differed in a level of habitat patchiness. We classified moose movements using the net squared displacement method. As presumed, lower patchiness in the Biebrza study site was associated with the predominance of individuals migrating short-distance, while in more patchy landscape of Polesie, resident moose dominated. At the individual level, the propensity of moose to migrate decreased with increasing abundance of forest habitats in their summer ranges. In addition, the parameters (migration distance, timing and duration) for migratory individuals varied substantially between individuals and years. Yet, in spring individual moose expressed a consistent migration timing across years. There was little synchronization of migration timing between individuals from the same population both in spring and autumn, which may have been related to mild weather conditions. We observed that moose postponed their migrations and started movement toward summer ranges at a similar time window in years when spring was delayed due to harsh weather. Hence, in light of global warming, we presume further changes in animal movements will arise.