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Alternative foraging strategies enable a mountain ungulate to persist after migration loss

June 1, 2017

The persistence of many migratory ungulate populations worldwide is threatened due to anthropogenic impacts to seasonal ranges and migration routes. While many studies have linked migratory ungulate declines to migration disruption or loss, very few have explored the underlying factors that determine whether a population perishes or persists. In some cases, populations undergo severe declines and extirpation after migration loss; however, others appear able to persist as residents. We predict that to persist, populations must replace the traditional benefits of migration by altering the foraging strategies they employ as residents within one seasonal range. We propose the alternative foraging strategies (AFS) hypothesis as a framework for identifying various behavioral strategies that populations may use to cope with migration loss. We tested the hypothesis using the formerly migratory Teton bighorn sheep population in northwest Wyoming, which ceased migrating over 60 yr ago, but has persisted as a resident population. We used global positioning system data to evaluate winter and summer habitat selection and seasonal elevational movements for 28 adult female bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) from 2008 to 2010. Resource selection functions revealed that bighorn sheep employ winter foraging strategies to survive as residents by seeking out rugged, high-elevation, windswept ridgelines. Seasonal movement analyses indicated that bighorn sheep undergo a newly documented “abbreviated migration” strategy that is closely synchronized with vegetation green-up patterns within their one range. Bighorn sheep descend 500 m in elevation and travel up to 10 km in spring, gaining access to newly emergent forage approximately 30 d before it appears on their high-elevation winter and summer ranges. Our findings indicate that the Teton bighorn sheep population has persisted due to its habitat selection, AFS, and unique movement patterns, which allow migration loss to be mediated to some extent. The identification of AFS and the habitats that support them can help reveal the underlying benefits of migration and conserve populations in the face of future migration loss.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2017
Title Alternative foraging strategies enable a mountain ungulate to persist after migration loss
DOI 10.1002/ecs2.1855
Authors Alyson B. Courtemanch, Matthew J. Kauffman, Steve Kilpatrick, Sarah Dewey
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecosphere
Series Number
Index ID 70192641
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coop Res Unit Seattle

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