Research Article

Landscape Ecology

, Volume 28, Issue 3, pp 427-437

First online:

Confounded winter and spring phenoclimatology on large herbivore ranges

  • David ChristiansonAffiliated withSchool of Natural Resources and the Environment, University of Arizona Email author 
  • , Robert W. KlaverAffiliated withU. S. Geological Survey Earth Resources Observation and Science Center (EROS)
  • , Arthur MiddletonAffiliated withWyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Department of Zoology and Physiology and Program in Ecology, University of Wyoming
  • , Matthew KauffmanAffiliated withU.S Geological Survey, Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Department of Zoology and Physiology, University of Wyoming

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Annual variation in winter severity and growing season vegetation dynamics appear to influence the demography of temperate herbivores but parsing winter from spring effects requires independent metrics of environmental conditions specific to each season. We tested for independence in annual variation amongst four common metrics used to describe winter severity and early growing season vegetation dynamics across the entire spatial distribution of elk (Cervus elaphus) in Wyoming from 1989 to 2006. Winter conditions and early growing season dynamics were correlated in a specific way. Winters with snow cover that ended early tended to be followed by early, but slow, rises in the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), while long winters with extended periods of snow cover were often followed by late and rapid rises in NDVI. Across the 35 elk ranges, 0.4–86.8 % of the variation in the rate of increase in NDVI’s in spring was explained by the date snow cover disappeared from SNOTEL stations. Because phenoclimatological metrics are correlated across seasons and shifting due to climate change, identifying environmental constraints on herbivore fitness, particularly migratory species, is more difficult than previously recognized.


Climate Elk Green-up Normalized difference vegetation index Phenology Snow Spring Winter