Researchers at the University of Alberta have developed a smartphone app to help track moose population numbers across the province, another example of citizen-aided science and technology to support wildlife.
Taking a stroll through Canada’s forest and wilderness areas today can come with some high tech options, including a range of apps available for the budding scientist or conservationist. Turtle tallies, frog surveys, monarch butterfly watches and bumble bee counts are all part of the experience, as researchers try to tap into the available (and cheap) resource of layperson labour.
And thus, the invention of the moose tracker, an app that interrupts an Alberta hunter’s evening repose by letting out the call of a female moose in heat, reminding the hunter to enter in the day’s data on moose sightings.
“At the end of every day, your phone will emit the sound of a cow moose in heat to remind you to enter data,” says Mark Boyce, University of Alberta professor and Alberta Conservation Association endowed chair in fisheries and wildlife, in a press release. “The interface prompts users to enter how many moose they saw and the number of hours they were hunting that day.”
Reportedly inspired by similar versions in Norway and Sweden, the app has the advantage of working outside of cellphone range during the day, allowing hunters to record data in the field and upload it later.
The app is seeing more and more widespread use across the province, with 14,000 submissions in 2016, up from 3,000 in 2012. “As an ongoing project managed by the ACA, the app can be used for modeling, monitoring, and managing moose populations across the province,” Boyce says. “This allows us to detect and understand the impact of changes in harvest regulations, disease outbreaks, territory shifts, and potentially even climate change.”
Crowdsourcing scientifically useful information is becoming more central to research efforts, especially concerning conservation, where accurate knowledge on population numbers, movement and habitat are crucial. As well, tracking population groups through apps like the moose survey is both cheaper than the traditional method of helicopter tracking and potentially more reliable.
In February, for example, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry in Ontario had to cancel more than half of its aerial moose surveys for Northwestern Ontario due to “unfavourable conditions.” Warm weather had caused moose herds to head into coverage within conifer stands, making it more difficult to count numbers.
The cancellation is a concern to sports hunters in the province, said John Kaplanis, executive director of the Northwestern Ontario Sportsman’s Alliance who says that the Ontario ministry’s efforts provide crucial information for hunters. “We put a lot of hope, and faith, into this agency to conduct moose management and monitoring the population,” Kaplanis said to CBC News. “Especially in light of the fact that currently, we are in an declining population mode for moose.”
Moose populations have been on the decline across North America, with a range of factors said to be in play, including climate change, disease, human development and hunting. Ontario’s moose population has been estimated at 92,300, about 20 per cent less than a decade ago, while Alberta’s stands at an estimated 118,000.