Climate and density-dependent drivers of recruitment in plains bison

D. N. Koons
P. Terletzky
P. B. Adler
M. L. Wolf
D. Ranglack
F. P. Howe
K. Hersey
W. Paskett
J. T. du Toit, Utah State University


In semiarid ecosystems ungulate densities can compound the effects of drought on forage availability, which can feed back to regulate reproduction and offspring recruitment. Climatic changes in the frequency and severity of drought could thus exacerbate these effects. Here, we use long-term data sets to examine the dual influences of population density, cohort, and climatic variation on recruitment in the Henry Mountains bison (Bison bison bison) population. We found that 1-year lagged annual precipitation had a positive effect on recruitment (β = 0.032, SE = 0.009) and population density had a negative effect (β = −0.0023, SE = 0.0004), but did not detect cohort effects. Furthermore, the effect of population density seemed to be more severe in dry relative to wet conditions, indicating that competition for forage could be severe in drought conditions. These results could help managers gain insight into the effects of climate change on bison population dynamics, and help guide the management of bison abundance on rangelands shared with cattle.