Impacts of Climate Changes on Elk Population Dynamics in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, U.S.A.
- Cite this article as:
- Wang, G., Thompson Hobbs, N., Singer, F.J. et al. Climatic Change (2002) 54: 205. doi:10.1023/A:1015725103348
- 324 Views
Changing climate may impact wildlife populations in national parks and conservation areas. We used logistic and non-linear matrix population models and 35 years of historic weather and population data to investigate the effects of climate on the population dynamics of elk in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), Colorado, U.S.A. We then used climate scenarios derived from Hadley and Canadian Climate Center (CCC) global climate models to project the potential impact of future climate on the elk population. All models revealed density-dependent effects of population size on growth rates. The best approximating logistic population model suggested that high levels of summer precipitation accelerated elk population growth, but higher summer minimum temperatures slowed growth. The best approximating non-linear matrix model indicated that high mean winter minimum temperatures enhanced recruitment of juveniles, while high summer precipitation enhanced the survival of calves. Warmer winters and wetter summers predicted by the Hadley Model could increase the equilibrium population size of elk by about 100%. Warmer winters and drier summers predicted by the CCC Model couldraise the equilibrium population size of elk by about 50%. Managers of national parks have relied on effects of weather, particularly severe winters, to regulate populations of native ungulates and prevent harmful effects of overabundance. Our results suggest that these regulating effects of severe winter weather may weaken if climate changes occur as those that are widely predicted in most climate change scenarios.