Effects of human activity on space use and movement patterns of female Elk


  • Associate Editor: Porter.


It is important to consider how human activity might influence behavior (e.g., space use and movement) in animals because such influences could have consequences for animal distribution or population performance. We documented and compared annual space use and daily movement patterns (i.e., movement distance and tortuosity) of female elk (Cervus elaphus) relative to human activity associated with development of energy resources in Colorado and New Mexico, USA, from 2006 to 2010. We analyzed data on 145 female elk fitted with global positioning system collars. While controlling for elevation, slope, and distance to anthropogenic features and vegetative cover, we found that proximity to the gas field generally was associated with smaller home ranges, more complex movement paths (i.e., greater tortuosity) and longer distance moved over a 3-hr period (during most seasons). Comparing elk inside of the gas field to those outside of the gas field revealed differences in space use and movement patterns at varying levels of human activity. These differences likely reflected behavior by which elk in industrial areas attempted to minimize contact with sources of human activity; whereas, elk using both industrial and nonindustrial areas exhibited behavior that could be considered escape strategies (i.e., familiarity and use of large spatial extents, increased movement distance, and linear movement paths) in response to seemingly unpredictable levels of human activity due to their use of multiple areas. Understanding such behavioral responses informs efforts to minimize effects of human activity on animal populations. © 2011 The Wildlife Society.