Multi-Scale Analyses of Habitat Use by Elk Following Wildfire
The effects of large ungulate herbivory on plant community structure and composition can vary considerably in regions susceptible to frequent wildfires. The Cerro Grande Fire (CGF) of May 2000 burned 17,400 ha of elk transitory-use range in the Jemez Mountains, north-central New Mexico. Our objective was to determine if habitat use changed temporally following the fire and if graminoid cover offset use of regenerating woody species. We assessed female elk habitat use at the landscape, home range, and burned area scales using distance analyses techniques, diet analyses, and browsing data. Across the landscape, elk selected home ranges with a grassland component. Selection of home ranges across the landscape was not influenced by the burned area within 4 years post-fire. Within home ranges, preference for burned area was similar to other habitats suggesting the burned area played a more important role at the home range scale compared to the landscape scale, particularly during drought. The presence of graminoids in elk pellets collected from the burned area increased while shrubs decreased over time. The decrease in shrubs may have been due to an increase in graminoid production after the fire. Applying burn treatments to transitory ranges in the Jemez Mountains at a rate that will maintain growth of early to mid-seral stage vegetation may help off-set use of sensitive woody plant communities via the production of graminoids. Re-seeding grasses immediately following fire may help to reduce herbivore use of woody plants such as aspen during the earlier stages of re-growth.
Riggs, James R. et. al. 2010. Multi-scale analyses of habitat use by elk following wildlife. Northwest Science. 84(1): 20-32.