WCS North America

Impacts on Muskox in Western Arctic Alaska

Muskoxen are inexorably linked to climate stressors in the Arctic. 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.

Formerly used by the Russian military, the Wrangel Island Nature Reserve on Wrangel Island in the Russian arctic is home to Siberia’s northernmost muskoxen population. Muskoxen populations in the Russian arctic are stable and thriving, while those in the 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. On Wrangel Island, WCS is conducting research to understand how different factors affect growth in individual muskoxen.


  • Document historic population contraction, expansion, and persistence;
  • Evaluate climate and vegetation as potential drivers of demographic change
  • 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

WCS has embarked on a three-pronged 5-year project to study muskox populations in Northwestern Alaska using existing 20-40 year data sets on population change.

This is a three-pronged approach blending analysis of threats, fieldwork and capacity building, and engagement with public:

o    Statistical analyses using past data and roles of weather and food to project long-term effects
o    Empirical data collection and experiments to understand how sex ratio alterations change susceptibility to polar and grizzly bear predation (both in Siberian and Alaskan Arctic)
o    Presentation and involvement with public and government sectors in Alaska, Russia, and lower USA


  • Training of Russian scientists to create ecological baselines using muskoxen
  • More than 20 public and scientific lectures on muskoxen
  • Documentation of polar bear predation on muskoxen in Arctic Asia-Russia
  • Publication of scientific papers on cold-adapted species

Latest Publications

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

Key Staff

Joel Berger
Senior Conservation Scientist
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Partners Include

National Park Service
University of Montana