, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 289-300

Landscape-level movements of North American elk (Cervus elaphus): effects of habitat patch structure and topography

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Abstract

We examined movements of North American elk (Cervus elaphus) in northeastern Oregon, USA. Movement vectors at 449 locations over a 7762 ha area were calculated based on 16,724 sequential observations of 94 female elk-year combinations during spring (15 April–14 May) 1993, 1995, 1996. We calculated movement vectors at the start of morning and evening feeding bouts (0500, 1900 h) and during periods of least activity (0100, 1500 h). Here, we measured characteristics of habitat patches (habitat type, mean patch size, coefficient of variation in patch size, edge density, mean shape index, and mean nearest neighbor) at two levels of habitat grain (eight habitat types, two habitat types) and at three spatial scales (250, 500, and 1000 m) around each movement vector. We also measured topographic features around each vector including distance to nearest stream, direction of drainage, elevation, slope, and convexity (a measure of ridge top vs. valley bottom land form). We used mixed models adjusted for positive spatial correlation among vectors to examine the relationship between vector length, or speed of movement, and habitat patch characteristics, and between vector direction and topographic features. Speed of movements by elk were not related to characteristics of habitat patches that we measured. The direction of movement, however, was dependent on topography. Elk were more likely to move parallel to major drainages than perpendicular to them. Furthermore, elk were less likely to move perpendicular to drainages when close to the nearest stream, in valley bottoms vs. ridge tops, and on steep slopes. The dendritic nature of movements by elk with respect to topography may help elucidate ecosystem processes such as nutrient flows, nutrient cycling, and successional trajectories of plant communities.