Skip to main content

Fine-scale predation risk on elk after wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone National Park, USA

Abstract

While patterns from trophic cascade studies have largely focused on density-mediated effects of predators on prey, there is increasing recognition that behaviorally mediated indirect effects of predators on prey can, at least in part, explain trophic cascade patterns. To determine if a relationship exists between predation risk perceived by elk (Cervus elaphus) while browsing and elk position within the landscape, we observed a total of 56 female elk during two summers and 29 female elk during one winter. At a fine spatial (0–187 m) and temporal scale (145–300 s), results from our model selection indicated summer vigilance levels were greater for females with calves than for females without calves, with vigilance levels greater for all females at closer escape-impediment distances. Winter results also suggested greater female vigilance levels at closer escape-impediment distances, but further indicated an increase in vigilance levels with closer conifer-edge distances. Placed within the context of other studies, the results were consistent with a behaviorally mediated trophic cascade and provide a potential mechanism to explain the variability in observed woody plant release from browsing in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

References

  • Anderson DP, Forester JD, Turner MG, Frair J, Merrill E, Fortin D, Beyer H, Mao JS, Boyce MS, Fryxell J (2005) Factors influencing female home-range sizes in elk (Cervus elaphus) in North American landscapes. Landsc Ecol 20:257–271

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Berger J, Cunningham C (1988) Size-related effects on search times in North American grassland female ungulates. Ecology 69:177–183

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bergman EJ, Garrott RA, Creel S, Borkowski JJ, Jaffe R, Watson FGR (2006) Assessment of prey vulnerability through analysis of wolf movements and kill sites. Ecol Appl 16:273–284

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Beschta RL (2005) Reduced cottonwood recruitment following extirpation of wolves in Yellowstone’s northern range. Ecology 86:391–403

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Beyer HL (2006) Wolves, elk and willow on Yellowstone National Park’s northern range. M.S. thesis, University of Alberta, Edmonton

  • Brown JS (1999) Vigilance, patch use, and habitat selection: foraging under predation risk. Evol Ecol Res 1:49–71

    Google Scholar 

  • Brown JS, Laundré JW, Gurung M (1999) The ecology of fear: optimal foraging, game theory, and trophic interactions. J Mammal 80:385–399

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Burnham KP, Anderson DR (2002) Model selection and multimodel inference: a practical information–theoretic approach. Springer, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Childress MJ, Lung MA (2003) Predation risk, gender and the group size effect: does elk vigilance depend upon the behaviour of conspecifics? Anim Behav 66:389–398

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Creel S, Winnie JA, Maxwell B, Hamlin K, Creel M (2005) Elk alter habitat selection as an antipredator response to wolves. Ecology 86:3387–3397

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dehn MM (1990) Vigilance for predators: detection and dilution effect. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 26:337–342

    Google Scholar 

  • Fortin D, Boyce MS, Merrill EH, Fryxell JM (2004) Foraging costs of vigilance in large mammalian herbivores. Oikos 107:172–180

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fortin D, Beyer HL, Boyce MS, Smith DW, Duchesne T, Mao JS (2005) Wolves influence elk movements: behavior shapes a trophic cascade in Yellowstone National Park. Ecology 86:1320–1330

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Frair JL, Merrill EH, Visscher DR, Fortin D, Beyer HL, Morales JM (2005) Scales of movement by elk (Cervus elaphus) in response to heterogeneity in forage resources and predation risk. Landsc Ecol 20:273–287

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Geist V (2002) Adaptive behavioral strategies. In: Toweill DE, Thomas JW (eds) North American elk: ecology and management. Smithsonian Institute Press, Washington, DC, pp 389–433

    Google Scholar 

  • Gese EM, Grothe S (1995) Analysis of coyote predation on deer and elk during winter in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Am Midl Nat 133:36–43

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gude JA, Garrott RA, Borkowski JJ, King F (2006) Prey risk allocation in a grazing ecosystem. Ecol Appl 16:285–298

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gula R (2004) Influence of snow cover on wolf (Canis lupus) predation patterns in Bieszczady Mountains, Poland. Wildl Biol 10:17–23

    Google Scholar 

  • Hebblewhite M, Pletscher DH (2002) Effects of elk group size on predation by wolves. Can J Zool 80:800–809

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Houston DB (1978) Elk as winter–spring food for carnivores in northern Yellowstone National Park. J Appl Ecol 15:653–661

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hunter LTB, Skinner JD (1998) Vigilance behaviour in African ungulates: the role of predation pressure. Behaviour 135:195–211

    Google Scholar 

  • Kunkel K, Pletscher DH (2001) Winter hunting patterns of wolves in and near Glacier National Park, Montana. J Wildl Manage 65:520–530

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Larsen EJ, Ripple WJ (2003) Aspen age structure in the northern Yellowstone ecosystem, USA. For Ecol Manage 179:469–482

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Laundré JW, Hernandez L, Altendorf KB (2001) Wolves, elk, and bison: re-establishing the “landscape of fear” in Yellowstone National Park, USA. Can J Zool 79:1401–1409

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lima SL, Dill LM (1990) Behavioral decisions made under the risk of predation: a review and prospectus. Can J Zool 68:619–640

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mao JS, Boyce MS, Smith DW, Singer FJ, Vales DJ, Vore JM, Merrill EH (2005) Habitat selection by elk before and after wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone National Park. J Wildl Manage 69:1691–1707

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mattson DJ (1997) Use of ungulates by Yellowstone grizzly bears, Ursus arctos. Biol Conserv 81:161–177

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ramsey FL, Schafer DW (2002) The statistical sleuth. Duxbury, Pacific Grove

    Google Scholar 

  • Ray JC, Redford KH, Steneck RS, Berger J (eds) (2005) Large carnivores and the conservation of biodiversity. Island Press, Washington, DC

  • Ripple WJ, Beschta RL (2004) Wolves, elk, willows, and trophic cascades in the upper Gallatin Range of southwestern Montana. For Ecol Manage 200:161–181

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ripple WJ, Beschta RL (2006) Linking wolves to willows via risk-sensitive foraging by ungulates in the northern Yellowstone ecosystem. For Ecol Manage 230:96–106

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ripple WJ, Beschta RL (2007) Restoring Yellowstone’s aspen with wolves. Biol Conserv 138:514–519

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schmitz OJ, Krivan V, Ovadia O (2004) Trophic cascades: the primacy of trait-mediated indirect interactions. Ecol Lett 7:153–163

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sih A (1980) Optimal behavior: can foragers balance two conflicting demands. Science 210:1041–1043

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wolff JO, Van Horn T (2003) Vigilance and foraging patterns of American elk during the rut in habitats with and without wolves. Can J Zool 81:266–271

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

The authors greatly appreciated the comments of Dr Robert Beschta, Cristina Eisenberg, Dr Jeff Hollenbeck, Dr Gail Olson, and an anonymous reviewer on earlier drafts of the manuscript. Financial support from the University of Wyoming-Yellowstone National Park grant is gratefully acknowledged.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Joshua S. Halofsky.

Additional information

Communicated by John Fryxell.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Halofsky, J.S., Ripple, W.J. Fine-scale predation risk on elk after wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone National Park, USA. Oecologia 155, 869–877 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-007-0956-z

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-007-0956-z

Keywords

  • Foraging
  • Anti-predator behavior
  • Escape impediments
  • Behaviorally mediated trophic effects