Distribution, Movements, and Space Use by Elk on the Idaho National Laboratory Site (2011)

Distribution, Movements, and Space Use by Elk on the Idaho National Laboratory Site (2011)

 

Investigators and Affiliations


  • Ryan A. Long, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Biological Sciences, Idaho State University, Pocatello, Idaho
  • Jericho C. Whiting, Ph.D., Wildlife Biologist, Environmental Surveillance, Education, and Research Program, Gonzales-Stoller Surveillance, LLC, Idaho Falls, Idaho
  • R. Terry Bowyer, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Idaho State University, Pocatello, Idaho
  • John G. Kie, Ph.D., Research Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Idaho State University, Pocatello, Idaho

 

Funding Sources:
  • U.S. Department of Energy-Idaho Operations Office
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • Idaho State University


Background:


Large mammals play important functional roles in many ecosystems, including sagebrush- steppe. Indeed, large herbivores often act as keystone species, and thus understanding the causes and consequences of their patterns of behavior can provide important insights into a variety of ecosystem processes. In addition, detailed data on movements of large mammals can provide land managers with critical information on ecological interactions between those animals and their environment. Such information is necessary for understanding past effects of anthropogenic disturbance on mammals and for predicting effects of future development, as well as for minimizing the negative effects of development on mammals. Such data may also provide important clues about the potential transport of nutrients and environmental contaminants by large mammals across landscapes. Nevertheless, the detailed data necessary to understand large-scale patterns of movement and resource selection by large mammals on the INL Site have never been obtained.

The overall goal of our project is to document landscape-scale patterns of movement and resource selection by elk (Cervus elaphus) at the INL Site. Results of our study will be integrated into the Conservation Management Plan for the INL Site, and will provide the Department of Energy with important information for environmental planning purposes. In addition, our results will provide information useful for managers desiring to minimize depredation of crops surrounding the INL Site by large herbivores, and will provide insights into the potential role of large mammals in distributing environmental contaminants both on and off of the study site.


Objectives


  • Capture 20 elk per year during 2010-2012 on the INL Site in order to collect data on body condition, morphology, disease, and pregnancy status, and to fit each of those animals with a GPS collar programmed to collect hourly locations between March and December
  • Determine the extent to which critical habitat (e.g., calving grounds) for elk occurs within the Development Zone
  • Determine when, where, and to what extent elk move between the INL Site and surrounding agricultural lands to aid in quantifying potential depredation problems and potential transport of contaminants off of the INL Site by elk.


Accomplishments through 2011


  • 20 female elk were captured and fit with global positioning system (GPS) collars in March, 2010, by net-gun from a helicopter. During the capture, data on body condition, morphology, and blood parameters were collected.
  • An additional 20 female elk were captured and fit with GPS collars in March, 2011, by drive- netting. Morphological and physiological data obtained during 2010 were also obtained from animals captured in 2011.
  • A total of roughly 100,000 hourly GPS locations have now been obtained from elk collared on the INL Site during 2010 and 2011.


Results


We collected roughly 17,000 hourly GPS locations from female elk collared on the INL Site during 2010, and roughly 85,000 hourly GPS locations from female elk collared on the INL Site during 2011 (Figure 1). Those data are currently being analyzed to determine important habitat associations, movement patterns, calving areas, and other aspects of the ecology of elk in this desert environment. Preliminary results, however, indicate heavy use of the central and southwestern portions of the INL Site by elk, particularly during autumn and winter. In addition, GPS data have indicated that elk wintering on the INL Site may travel 50 miles or more from the Site during the summer months. Our results also demonstrate some use of areas located near INL facilities and major highways in the western portion of the INL Site (Figure 2). Finally, Figure 3 illustrates how daily movement distances obtained from hourly GPS locations can be used to infer timing of parturition and periods of maximum movement and associated energy expenditure.
Figure 1
Figure 1. Roughly 100,000 Hourly GPS Locations Obtained from Collared Female Elk (Cervus elaphus) on the INL Site from March-December, 2010-2011.

Figure 2
Figure 2. Hourly GPS Locations Obtained from Collared Female Elk (Cervus elaphus) During 2011 Showing Some Use by Elk of Areas Near Major Highways and INL Site Facilities

Figure 3
Figure 3. Daily Distance Moved by Collared Female Elk (Cervus elaphus) #50082 During 2010.Circled days indicate periods of minimal and maximal movement, with the period of minimal movement in early June likely representing the time of parturition.

Plans for Continuation


Roughly 20 more female elk will be captured on the INL Site in February 2012, and fit with real-time GPS collars programmed to collect hourly location data through 1 December. 2012 is the last year of data collection planned for this project.

Publications, Reports, and Theses


This project is ongoing (i.e., field data are still being collected), and thus no publications have been completed at this time. Several peer-reviewed publications and a Ph.D. dissertation will be forthcoming when the project is completed in 2013.