Have you herd? Moose, bighorn sheep pass on mi­gra­tion tips

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Nation & World - By Mal­colm Rit­ter As­so­ci­ated Press

NEW YORK — Look­ing for the best place to eat? Ask a lo­cal. Now sci­en­tists say that same in­sider knowl­edge shapes the spring­time mi­gra­tions of moose and bighorn sheep.

An­i­mals learn from ex­pe­ri­enced mem­bers of the herd about where to find the best food, build­ing sort of a cul­tural know-how that’s passed through gen­er­a­tions and im­proves over the course of decades, new re­search in­di­cates.

While sci­en­tists have spec­u­lated be­fore that this hap­pens in hoofed an­i­mals, this is the first con­clu­sive test of the idea, said Matthew Kauff­man, a U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey re­searcher who was part of the study re­leased last week by the jour­nal Sci­ence.

Re­searchers tracked the move­ments of 267 bighorn sheep and 189 moose in Wy­oming, Idaho and South Dakota that wore GPS de­vices on col­lars. They used satel­lite data to track where and when vege­ta­tion along the mi­gra­tion routes reached the stage of growth that the an­i­mals pre­fer for eat­ing.

Some of the col­lared an­i­mals came from herds es­tab­lished in an area for at least 200 years, while oth­ers came from herds in­tro­duced in re­cent decades.

Sci­en­tists rea­soned that if an­i­mals learned and then de­vel­oped over time the knowl­edge of how to find the best food, those from long-es­tab­lished herds would per­form bet­ter at lo­cat­ing the prime for­age than those from herds with a shorter history.

And that’s what they found when they com­pared the GPS data on the an­i­mals to the lo­ca­tions of the best for­age. The longer a herd had been es­tab­lished, the bet­ter the tracked an­i­mals were at find­ing the best for­age, and the more likely they were to mi­grate at all.

The long, slow im­prove­ment in for­age-find­ing over decades in­di­cates herds build on the cul­tural knowl­edge across gen­er­a­tions. The longer a herd had been around, the bet­ter the tracked an­i­mals were at find­ing the best for­age, re­searchers found.

ROBERT F. BUKATY/AP

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