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Keywords:

  • Cervus elaphus manitobensis;
  • elk;
  • population growth;
  • population viability;
  • reintroduction;
  • Tennessee

Abstract

We used an individual-based population model to perform a viability analysis to simulate population growth (λ) of 167 elk (Cervus elaphus manitobensis; 71 male and 96 female) released in the Cumberland Mountains, Tennessee, to estimate sustainability (i.e., λ > 1.0) and identify the most appropriate options for managing elk restoration. We transported elk from Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada, and from Land Between the Lakes, Kentucky, and reintroduced them beginning in December 2000 and ending in February 2003. We estimated annual survival rates for 156 radio-collared elk from December 2000 until November 2004. We used data from a nearby elk herd in Great Smoky Mountains National Park to simulate pessimistic and optimistic recruitment and performed population viability analyses to evaluate sustainability over a 25-year period. Annual survival averaged 0.799 (Total SE = 0.023). The primary identifiable sources of mortality were poaching, disease from meningeal worm (Parelaphostrongylus tenuis), and accidents (environmental causes and unintentional harvest). Population growth given pessimistic recruitment rates averaged 0.895 over 25 years (0.955 in year 1 to 0.880 in year 25); population growth was not sustainable in 100% of the runs. With the most optimistic estimates of recruitment, mean λ increased to 0.967 (1.038 in year 1 to 0.956 in year 25) with 99.6% of the runs failing to be sustainable. We suggest that further translocation efforts to increase herd size will be ineffective unless survival rates are increased in the Cumberland Mountains. © 2011 The Wildlife Society.