, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 257-271

Factors influencing female home range sizes in elk (Cervus elaphus) in North American landscapes

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Abstract

Home range size is a result of individual movements and the spatial distribution of a population. While body size, sex, and age are known to influence the area over which an animal ranges, it remains uncertain how landscape heterogeneity influences home range size. We examined elk (Cervus elaphus) seasonal home range sizes in relation to the quantity and spatial heterogeneity of forage biomass, forest cover, topography, snow–water equivalents, and landscape structure in three study landscapes: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA; eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies, Alberta; and northern Wisconsin, USA. We used a 95% fixed kernel estimator to measure the home range size and location of all elk. To identify the scales at which important factors influenced home range sizes, we quantified environmental variables within the estimated home range polygon and within concentric circles with radii of 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000, and 5000 m from the home range center. Results indicate that there was an inverse relationship between forage biomass and summer and winter home range sizes in Alberta and Wisconsin, however the relationship was positive in Yellowstone. The size of summer and winter home ranges was positively related to percent forest cover; however this relationship was significant only when forest cover was quantified within the home range polygon or radii that were greater than or equal to 3000 m. Winter home ranges also had a positive relationship with snow–water equivalents. The predictive strength of summer home range models was greatest when landscape variables were quantified within the concentric circles with a radius of 3000 m or more, whereas the predictive strength of the winter models was greatest within the estimated home range polygon. Results suggest that elk ranging patterns reflected complex trade-offs that affect foraging, group dynamics, movement energetics, predation avoidance and thermal regulation. The multi-scale analysis indicates that elk based home ranging decisions on an area equal to their home range, but areas outside of the estimated home range were also important.