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The northern Yellowstone elk: density dependence and climatic conditions

January 1, 2002

We analyzed a time series of estimates of elk (Cervus elaphus) numbers on the northern Yellowstone winter range from 1964 to 1979 and 1986 to 1995 using a variety of discrete time stochastic population dynamic models. These models included adjustments for density, an increase in the area of winter range used by elk, lagged effects of the weather covariates of spring precipitation, snow depth and winter temperature, and the impacts of the 1988 drought and fires. An information-criteria-based model-selection process strongly supported evidence of density dependence. The best model, a Ricker model, distinguished between the 2 time periods. The bulk of the difference between the 2 periods is attributed to an increase in the amount of winter range used by elk. Inclusion of the covariates spring precipitation and spring precipitation squared greatly improved the model fit. We detected a short-lived increase in elk population growth rate following the 1988 drought and fires. Fertility and survivorship of adults appeared to have different density-dependent forms that together result in a biphasic relationships between population growth rate and density. This study confirms the presence of density-dependent regulation in the norther Yellowstone elk herd, and enhances our understanding of population dynamics of these ungulates.

Publication Year 2002
Title The northern Yellowstone elk: density dependence and climatic conditions
DOI 10.2307/3802877
Authors Mark L. Taper, Peter J.P. Gogan
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Wildlife Management
Index ID 70159711
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center