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Elk migration patterns and human activity influence wolf habitat use in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

July 27, 2012

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 (Cervus elaphus) distribution and other landscape features on wolf (Canis lupus) 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 to 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.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2012
Title Elk migration patterns and human activity influence wolf habitat use in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
DOI 10.1890/11-1829.1
Authors Abigail Nelson, Matthew J. Kauffman, Arthur D. Middleton, Mike Jimenez, Douglas McWhirter, Jarrett Barber, Ken Gerow
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecological Applications
Index ID 70038468
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

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