, Volume 175, Issue 4, pp 1155–1165 | Cite as

Density-dependent habitat selection and partitioning between two sympatric ungulates

  • Floris M. van BeestEmail author
  • Philip D. McLoughlin
  • Eric Vander Wal
  • Ryan K. Brook
Behavioral ecology - Original research


Theory on density-dependent habitat selection predicts that as population density of a species increases, use of higher quality (primary) habitat by individuals declines while use of lower quality (secondary) habitat rises. Habitat partitioning is often considered the primary mechanism for coexistence between similar species, but how this process evolves with changes in population density remains to be empirically tested for free-ranging ungulates. We used resource-selection functions to quantify density effects on landscape-scale habitat selection of two sympatric species of ungulates [moose (Alces alces) and elk (Cervus canadensis manitobensis)] in Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba, Canada (2000–2011). The density of elk was actively reduced from 1.2 to 0.4 elk km−2 through increased hunting effort during the period of study, while moose density decreased without additional human influence from 1.6–0.7 moose km−2. Patterns of habitat selection during winter by both species changed in accordance to expectations from density-dependent habitat-selection theory. At low intraspecific density, moose and elk did not partition habitat, as both species selected strongly for mixed forest (primary habitat providing both food and cover), but did so in different areas segregated across an elevational gradient. As intraspecific density increased, selection for primary habitat by both species decreased, while selection for secondary, lower quality habitat such as agricultural fields (for elk) and built-up areas (for moose) increased. We show that habitat-selection strategies during winter for moose and elk, and subsequent effects on habitat partitioning, depend heavily on the position in state space (density) of both species.


Competition State space Population density Harvest Resource-selection functions Coexistence Deer Predation risk 



We thank the Parks Canada Agency, Riding Mountain National Park, the University of Saskatchewan, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and PrioNet Canada for in-kind and financial support. We wish to thank Dauphin Air Service and Parks Canada staff involved in the aerial survey data collection and Sean Frey for geographic information system support and compiling the data. Göran Ericsson, Joris Cromsigt, Daniel Fortin, and one anonymous referee provided many helpful and constructive comments on a previous version of this manuscript.

Supplementary material

442_2014_2978_MOESM1_ESM.doc (319 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 319 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Floris M. van Beest
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Philip D. McLoughlin
    • 3
  • Eric Vander Wal
    • 4
  • Ryan K. Brook
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Animal and Poultry Science, College of Agriculture and BioresourcesUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada
  2. 2.Department of BioscienceAarhus UniversityRoskildeDenmark
  3. 3.Department of BiologyUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada
  4. 4.Department of BiologyUniversité de SherbrookeSherbrookeCanada

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