Phenology of Molt in Mountain Goats

Dec 29, 2018 | Mountain Goat, Research | 0 comments

All mammals shed but some shed more hair and more slowly than others. Mountain goats are one such mammal. Remarkably, we know very little about their molt or about the molt of most mammals and birds. Knowing how our warming climate might affect cold-adapted animals like mountain goats or muskoxen may help inform conservation planning and management as well as husbandry for captive populations.

The Yukon and Alaska encompass the northern extent of mountain goat range. The two herds of mountain goats at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve provide opportunities to better understand molt at northern latitudes. Studying them may also reveal how age, sex, pregnancy, social status, and behaviour affect molt.

Slide across to see how analysis of trail camera images reveals molt progression. Remote camera images of the 4-year old billy at the Preserve. Rendered show shed areas in black and unshed area in red. Post-processing in Photoshop reveals he was 1.8% shed on May 20th. Images: Katarzina Nowak.

In the middle of May, Preserve staff helped set up four remote cameras. Since then, the cameras have captured thousands of mountain goat photos((The Yukon Wildlife Preserve Research Committee evaluates proposals. Find out more under Learn > Research)).

Molt first became apparent in late May and early June. As of June 20th, a 4-year-old billy, and a yearling have shed most (the billy) or all (the yearling) of their winter coats. Close behind them, is 10-year-old billy, Geronimo. The last to molt are the nannies. And we predict the two nannies with this year’s twins will shed last. So far, this follows the molt chronology we expected.

Slide across to see how analysis of trail camera images reveals molt progression. Remote camera images of the 4-year old billy at the Preserve. Rendered show shed areas in black and unshed area in red. Post-processing in Photoshop reveals he was 41.6% on June 13th. Images: Katarzina Nowak.
The Preserve has also allowed me to observe how mountain goats cope with heat. I have watched the goats take frequent dust baths and rub their coats on trees, branches, and feeding stations. The nannies especially have sought – and competed for – shade and pits in the dirt.

We are also remote camera trapping wild goats in several locations in the southern Yukon. And we are amassing photographs from members of the public or “citizen scientists” from across the entire mountain goat range. We expect to learn more about how thermal change is affecting molt. For example, we hope to see if nannies, especially those with kids, face a disproportionate risk of heat stress if they do not molt earlier or faster, or thermoregulate behaviourally.

…animals acclimating to warming in the wild will continue to confront challenges like busy roads and other human pressures.

My recent observations near Montana Mountain in Carcross/Tagish First Nation territory suggest that mountain goats are descending steep slopes to use the Windy Arm of Tagish Lake. To do this, they must cross the Klondike Highway and they opt to do this at night. We will be investigating the drivers of this lake-use over the coming months; to understand if it is for drinking, cooling off, or for minerals. Water pools or artificial shade may prove to be good mitigation options in captive facilities. But animals acclimating to warming in the wild will continue to confront challenges like busy roads and other human pressures.

If you have photographs of mountain goats that you are willing to share with the project for the purpose of analyzing shed patterns, please submit them by e-mail to mountaingoatmoltproject@gmail.com or one of our citizen science portals: CitSci.org web portal or iNaturalist. Thank you for your help!

Dr. Katarzyna Nowak

Dr. Katarzyna Nowak

Researcher

Dr. Katarzyna Nowak is a researcher and fellow at The Safina Center. The Mountain Goat Molt Project relies mainly on participatory science in the form of mountain goat photo contributions from members of the public. It is supported with funds from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y).

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