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Industrial energy development decouples ungulate migration from the green wave

October 6, 2022

The ability to freely move across the landscape to track the emergence of nutritious spring green-up (termed ‘green-wave surfing’) is key to the foraging strategy of migratory ungulates. Across the vast landscapes traversed by many migratory herds, habitats are being altered by development with unknown consequences for surfing. Using a unique long-term tracking dataset, we found that when energy development occurs within mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) migration corridors, migrating animals become decoupled from the green wave. During the early phases of a coalbed natural gas development, deer synchronized their movements with peak green-up. But faced with increasing disturbance as development expanded, deer altered their movements by holding up at the edge of the gas field and letting the green wave pass them by. Development often modified only a small portion of the migration corridor but had far-reaching effects on behaviour before and after migrating deer encountered it, thus reducing surfing along the entire route by 38.65% over the 14-year study period. Our study suggests that industrial development within migratory corridors can change the behaviour of migrating ungulates and diminish the benefits of migration. Such disruptions to migratory behaviour present a common mechanism whereby corridors become unprofitable and could ultimately be lost on highly developed landscapes.

Publication Year 2022
Title Industrial energy development decouples ungulate migration from the green wave
DOI 10.1038/s41559-022-01887-9
Authors Ellen O. Aikens, Teal B. Wyckoff, Hall Sawyer, Matthew Kauffman
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Nature Ecology and Evolution
Index ID 70255211
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coop Res Unit Seattle