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Post-parturition habitat selection by elk calves and adult female elk in New Mexico

August 28, 2014

Neonatal survival and juvenile recruitment are crucial to maintaining viable elk (Cervus elaphus) populations. Neonate survival is known to be influenced by many factors, including bed-site selection. Although neonates select the actual bed-site location, they must do so within the larger calf-rearing area selected by the mother. As calves age, habitat selection should change to meet the changing needs of the growing calf. Our main objectives were to characterize habitat selection at 2 spatial scales and in areas with different predator assemblages in New Mexico. We evaluated bed-site selection by calves and calf-rearing area selection by adult females. We captured 108 elk calves by hand and fitted them with ear tag transmitters in two areas in New Mexico: the Valle Vidal and Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area. In both study areas, we found that concealing cover structure and distance to that cover influenced bed-site selection of young calves (i.e., <2 weeks of age). Older calves (i.e., 3–10 weeks of age) still selected areas in relation to distance to cover, but also preferred areas with higher visibility. At the larger spatial scale of calf-rearing habitat selection by the adult female, concealing cover (e.g., rocks, shrubs, and logs) and other variables important to the hiding calves were still in the most supported models, but selection was also influenced by forage availability and indices of forage quality. Studies that seek to obtain insight into microhabitat selection of ungulate neonates should consider selection by the neonate and selection by the adult female, changes in selection as neonates age, and potential selection differences in areas of differing predation risk. By considering these influences together and at multiple scales, studies can achieve a broader understanding of neonatal ungulate habitat requirements. 

Publication Year 2014
Title Post-parturition habitat selection by elk calves and adult female elk in New Mexico
DOI 10.1002/jwmg.776
Authors James W. Pitman, James W. Cain III, Stewart Liley, William R. Gould, Nichole T. Quintana, Warren Ballard
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Wildlife Management
Index ID 70173886
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coop Res Unit Seattle