New publication on elk migration and wolf habitat use

June 06, 2012

Abby Nelson, who finished her MS thesis at the University of Wyoming in 2011, was the lead author. This work was conducted in the Absaroka Mountains near Cody, WY as part of the Absaroka Wolf-Livestock and Elk Ecology Projects in collaboration with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The paper can be accessed online at the ESA publications website or downloaded here. Abby is now a Wolf Management Specialist with Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks. Below is the abstract of the new paper.

“Identifying the ecological dynamics underlying human-wildlife conflicts is important for the management and conservation of wildlife populations. In landscapes still occupied by large carnivores, many ungulate prey species migrate seasonally, yet little empirical research has explored the relationship between carnivore distribution and ungulate migration strategy. In this study, we evaluate the influence of elk distribution and other landscape features on wolf habitat use in an area of chronic wolf-livestock conflict in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, USA. Using three years of fine-scale wolf (n = 14) and elk (n = 81) movement data, we compared the seasonal habitat use of wolves in an area dominated by migratory elk with that of wolves in an adjacent area dominated by resident elk. Most migratory elk vacate the associated winter wolf territories each summer via a 40-60 km migration, whereas resident elk remain accessible to wolves year-round. We used a generalized linear model to compare the relative probability of wolf use as a function of GIS-based habitat covariates in the migratory and resident elk areas. Although wolves in both areas used elk-rich habitat all year, elk density in summer had a weaker influence on the habitat use of wolves in the migratory elk area than the resident elk area. Wolves employed a number of alternative strategies to cope with the departure of migratory elk. Wolves in the two areas also differed in their disposition toward roads. In winter, wolves in the migratory elk area used habitat close to roads, while wolves in the resident elk area avoided roads. In summer, wolves in the migratory elk area were indifferent to roads, while wolves in resident elk areas strongly avoided roads, presumably due to the location of dens and summering elk combined with different traffic levels. Study results can help wildlife managers anticipate the movements and establishment of wolf packs as they expand into areas with migratory or resident prey populations, varying levels of human activity, and front-country rangelands with potential for conflicts with livestock.”

Read more at ESA, or download the article.