Date of Award:

12-2009

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)

Department:

Wildland Resources

Advisor/Chair:

James N. Long

Abstract

Understanding the degree of spatial fidelity of individuals within a species increases our ability to manage appropriately. Elk (Cervus elaphus) is a highly managed species in the Intermountain West, but there is little research evaluating summer home range fidelity of individual elk. We evaluated fidelity of 72 adult female elk to individual summer-fall home ranges in the White River study area in northwestern Colorado during two consecutive summers. Based on individual kernel-estimated utilization distributions, we used (1) the Volume of Intersection (VI) statistic and (2) interannual distances between centers of mass to compare summer range overlap and distribution. We also examined the role of landcover in summer habitat selection by elk from three distinct perspectives: landscape, individual, and philopatric. While many previous habitat studies included landscape analysis, few incorporate individual analysis and none contain a philopatric assessment, to our knowledge. We found adult female elk in the White River Study area exhibit fidelity to individual home ranges. VI values indicated that 93% of the elk showed some home range overlap, with a median value of 0.42 (SE = 0.02, n = 72). Between-year center-of-mass distances ranged from 183 m to 34,170 m (x = 3819, SE = 619, n = 72), while within-year maximum distances between location points ranged from 4,320 m to 31,680 m (x = 13,958, SE = 628, n = 72). Our landcover results indicated elk can be characterized as both generalists and specialists. While elk occurred across a very diverse landscape, we found a preference for Aspen-Mixed Conifer, Aspen, and Dry-Mesic Spruce-Fir landcover types, and a general avoidance of Agriculture, Sagebrush Steppe, Subalpine Meadow, and Grassland. We also found a high degree of similarity in landcover composition between years for individual elk. Elk home range fidelity could impact habitat management, specifically with respect to browsing and successful aspen (Populus tremuloides) regeneration. Incorporation of the philopatric perspective into future elk behavior and habitat selection studies could make results more rigorous and expand understanding of landscape-level results.

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