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Modeling elk nutrition and habitat use in Western Oregon and WashingtonAuthor(s): Mary M. Rowland; Michael J. Wisdom; Ryan M. Nielson; John G. Cook; Rachel C. Cook; Bruce K. Johnson; Priscilla K. Coe; Jennifer M. Hafer; Bridgett J. Naylor; David J. Vales; Robert G. Anthony; Eric K. Cole; Chris D. Danilson; Ronald W. Davis; Frank Geyer; Scott Harris; Larry L. Irwin; Robert McCoy; Michael D. Pope; Kim Sager-Fradkin; Martin Vavra
Source: Wildlife Monographs. 199(1): 1-102.
Publication Series: Scientific Journal (JRNL)
Station: Pacific Northwest Research Station
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DescriptionStudies of habitat selection and use by wildlife, especially large herbivores, are foundational for understanding their ecology and management, especially if predictors of use represent habitat requirements that can be related to demography or fitness. Many ungulate species serve societal needs as game animals or subsistence foods, and also can affect native vegetation and agricultural crops because of their large body size, diet choices, and widespread distributions. Understanding nutritional resources and habitat use of large herbivores like elk (Cervus canadensis) can benefit their management across different land ownerships and management regimes. Distributions of elk in much of the western United States have shifted from public to private lands, leading to reduced hunting and viewing opportunities on the former and increased crop damage and other undesired effects on the latter. These shifts may be caused by increasing human disturbance (e.g., roads and traffic) and declines of early-seral vegetation, which provides abundant forage for elk and other wildlife on public lands. Managers can benefit from tools that predict how nutritional resources, other environmental characteristics, elk productivity and performance, and elk distributions respond to management actions. We present a large-scale effort to develop regional elk nutrition and habitat-use models for summer ranges spanning 11 million ha in western Oregon and Washington, USA (hereafter Westside). We chose summer because nutritional limitations on elk condition (e.g., body fat levels) and reproduction in this season are evident across much of the western United States. Our overarching hypothesis was that elk habitat use during summer is driven by a suite of interacting covariates related to energy balance: acquisition (e.g., nutritional resources, juxtaposition of cover and foraging areas), and loss (e.g., proximity to open roads, topography). We predicted that female elk consistently select areas of higher summer nutrition, resulting in better animal performance in more nutritionally rich landscapes. We also predicted that factors of human disturbance, vegetation, and topography would affect elk use of landscapes and available nutrition during summer, and specifically predicted that elk would avoid open roads and areas far from cover-forage edges because of their preference for foraging sites with secure patches of cover nearby. Our work had 2 primary objectives: 1) to develop and evaluate a nutrition model that estimates regional nutritional conditions for elk on summer ranges, using predictors that reflect elk nutritional ecology; and 2) to develop a summer habitat-use model that integrates the nutrition model predictions with other covariates to estimate relative probability of use by elk, accounting for ecological processes that drive use. To meet our objectives, we used 25 previously collected data sets on elk nutrition, performance, and distributions from 12 study areas. We demonstrated the management utility of our regional-scale models via application in 2 landscapes in Washington.
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CitationRowland, M.M.; Wisdom, M.J.; Nielson, R.M.; Cook, J.G.; Cook, R.C.; Johnson, B.K.; Coe, P.K; Hafer, J.M.; Naylor, B.J.; Vales, D.J.; Anthony, R.G.; Cole, E.K.; Danilson, C.D.; Davis, R.W.; Geyer, F.; Harris, S; Irwin, L L.; McCoy, R.; Pope, M.D.; Sager-Fradkin, K.; Vavra, M. 2018. Modeling elk nutrition and habitat use in Western Oregon and Washington. Wildlife Monographs. 199(1): 1-102. https://doi.org/10.1002/wmon.1033.
KeywordsAnimal performance, Cervus candensis, elk, habitat-use model, land management, meta-analysis, nutritional ecology, Pacific Northwest.
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