WCS North America

Impacts on Muskox in Western Arctic Alaska

 Muskoxen are inexorably linked to climate stressors in the Arctic. Indeed, their ability to adapt to significant environmental change is poor, as evidenced by their complete loss from Asia and Europe; native populations persist only in tundra environments of Arctic North America. Although doing well in the Canadian Archipelago and a few mainland sites, muskoxen disappeared from Alaska 150 years ago.   Today’s persisting populations were re-introduced and they currently experience strong interacting effects of climate change, predation by wolves and by humans, and food limitation. Additionally, the expansion of brown bears northward adds the complexity associated with a new predator on muskoxen. This mosaic of climate and biological forces creates an interesting dynamic; some (but not all) herds in Western Alaska are increasing but those in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge have dropped to near extinction.   The causes of these differing trajectories are highly unclear; possibilities include changes in precipitation, freeze-thaw cycles, habitat quality, and predation. 


  • Document historic population contraction, expansion, and persistence;
  • Evaluate climate and vegetation as potential drivers of demographic change using retrospective analyses with GIS and Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI)  - a simple numerical indicator that can be used to analyze remote sensing measurements;
  • Coordinate a field program to contrast birth, death, and other vital parameters among populations experiencing different environmental conditions while modeling future trends. 


Impacts on Muskox in Western Arctic Alaska

Given the availability of existing 20-40 year data sets on population change in muskoxen, WCS has embarked on a three-pronged 5-year project to study muskox populations in Northwestern Alaska.


Given that the U.S. National Park Service is mandated to protect biological diversity on their lands to the extent possible, our efforts will contribute to a broader goal of understanding the causes and consequences of species persistence under changing conditions. Since scientists, government agencies, the public, and policy makers must tackle issues about environmental change and the viability of future populations, this study will make available new insights about how landscapes, intrinsic and extrinsic biological factors, and climate affect the world’s only Arctic obligate, large herbivore.

Latest Publications

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WCS Arctic Beringia
P.O. Box 751110 Fairbanks, AK 99775
(907) 750-9991

Key Staff

Joel Berger
Muskox Program Coordinator
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Partners Include

National Park Service
United States Geological Survey (USGS)