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Demographic consequences of harvesting: a case study from a small and isolated moose population

Ivar Herfindal*, Aline Magdalena Lee, Sandra Hamel, Erling Johan Solberg, Bernt-Erik Sæther

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Harvesting can have great impact on population dynamics and individual performance in wild populations. While the direct consequences of harvest on individual survival and population growth rate are often apparent, harvesting can also have indirect and more subtle demographic consequences. Disentangling these consequences, however, requires in-depth knowledge on individual life histories of both males and females in the population. Here, we summarise demographic research on a population where such data exist: the Vega moose population in northern Norway. In this population, vital rates vary considerably among both females and males, and harvesting increase this variation by generating positive covariation between reproductive performance and survival. The skewed age and sex structure, which is typical of many harvested populations, also has demographic consequences. It reduces the ratio of effective to total population size and influenced variation in vital rates in males and females. The moose harvest at Vega is structured by age- and sex-specific quotas, but it is not intentionally selective regarding size or other phenotypic characteristics. Still, harvest selection for earlier birth rate and larger calves was apparent, likely due to habitat-performance relationships and habitat-specific harvest mortality. Together, the bulk of research on this population shows that harvesting impacts population demography through many different pathways, with some being more subtle than others. These complex pathways influences especially the demographic variance affect stochastic processes such as population growth, genetic drift, and rates of evolutionary change, and they must therefore be acknowledged in management plans in order to achieve sustainable harvesting.