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Keywords:

  • aerial survey;
  • Cervus elaphus;
  • elk;
  • modeling;
  • radio telemetry;
  • sightability

Abstract

Few tracking studies consider seasonal changes in ability to re-sight wildlife, despite potential for biases in sightability to mislead our interpretation of models of movement and abundance. We developed seasonal sightability models based on visual observations of radio-collared elk (Cervus elaphus) in Manitoba, Canada, through 6 seasons. We located 377 elk 8,862 times using aerial telemetry from 2002 to 2009. We tested the hypothesis that sites where we were able to visually observe radio-collared elk during aerial telemetry differed from sites where collared elk were known to be present but could not be sighted. Relationships varied with season and elk sightability was influenced by forest type, habitat openness, distance to edge, and time of day. Our results confirm that observers have the highest probability of detecting elk in early and late winter. However, factors such as day length, which increases by 64% during this period, suggest that fewer impediments to detection exist in late winter. Our findings reinforce the need to account for seasonal as well as spatial changes in habitat-specific sightability models. © 2011 The Wildlife Society.