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Moose genealogy

DNA study shows Adirondack moose have ‘cousins’ in neighboring states; they didn’t cross the St. Lawrence

April 21, 2012
By MIKE LYNCH - Outdoors Writer ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

SARANAC LAKE - A study of moose in the northeastern U.S. and neighboring Canadian provinces has found a distinct genetic difference between moose living north and south of the St. Lawrence River.

The results show that moose have moved between the four states of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine and the neighboring Canadian provinces of New Brunswick, but not so much between New York and Ontario and Quebec.

Moose on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, and north of the St. Lawrence River all had separate and distinct genetic makeups, according to the study.

Article Photos

A moose walks on a boggy patch of Raquette Pond in Tupper Lake in 2009.
(Enterprise file photo — Mike Lynch)

The study was performed by the Wildlife Conservation Society in Saranac Lake and the U.S. Forest Service's Rocky Mountain Research Station's genetics laboratory in Missoula, Mont.

WCS initiated the study in 2008 by hiring Working Dogs for Conservation, of Three Forks, Mont., to find moose scat samples in the northern Adirondacks.

WCS then obtained moose tissue samples from wildlife biologists in neighboring states and provinces and sent them to the genetics lab in Montana to use in comparison with the scat samples. The results came back at the end of 2011.

Overall, 140 scat samples were tested by the lab. Of those, scientists were able to obtain DNA from 38, which they determined came from 25 individuals.

Those scat samples were then compared to 293 tissue samples obtained from outside of New York.

"Once we had all the tissues, there were more questions we could ask for moose in the Adirondacks because now we know what the genetic makeup of the moose is in Vermont and Canada and elsewhere," said WCS Livelihoods and Conservation Coordinator Heidi Kretser. "So we could really ask the questions, 'What moose are moose in the Adirondacks related to? Who are my cousins?'"

Moose were extirpated from the Adirondacks in the 1860s, but they began to be spotted again in the 1980s. State Department of Environmental Conservation biologists estimated that there were about 500 to 800 moose in New York state as of 2010; however, a standard procedure for estimating numbers of moose has not yet been established, according to the DEC's website. Currently, the DEC estimates there are 800 to 1,000 moose in the Adirondacks.

When asked what the significance of the finding that moose moved through the Northeast, Kretser said it could help guide future management decisions involving wildlife and land.

"It just goes to show that in the Northern Forest area it's probably important to keep thinking about how land use takes place and how the changes in the landscape might affect wildlife movement," Kretser said, "because clearly wildlife are moving, and we wouldn't want to get to a situation where they can't move between the different states because of development and roads or traffic patterns."

Kretser said the DEC could use this method of using scat to measure and better understand the moose population.

"Because there are no natural predators of moose in the Adirondack Park, if the population grows as it has in Vermont and New Hampshire, at some point there will likely need to be some type of management such as hunting," Kretser said. "We presented to the DEC and suggested that this would be a good method to figure out a good population number, and I guess the next step would be to find out whether or not there is enough money to execute a larger-scale project."

As for why the moose genetics are different above and below the St. Lawrence River, Kretser said she didn't have a definite answer.

"It could be because the moose on the southern half of the St. Lawrence were all from the remnant population that existed in Maine after their total extirpation and then all just re-colonized after that re-population," she said. "Or it could be because there's just no flow of genes or genetic makeup between the animals north of St. Lawrence and south of St. Lawrence."

She speculated that moose may not be able to cross between between Quebec and New York in the St. Lawrence Seaway area because of "the whole matrix what's around the St. Lawrence." She noted that there's a large agricultural area, a major highway and many other obstacles to pass through. She doubted it was just the St. Lawrence Seaway, in part because moose are known to swim long distances.


Contact Mike Lynch at 518-891-2600 ext. 28 or



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