Identifying and prioritizing ungulate migration routes for landscape-level conservation


  • Corresponding Editor: J. J. Millspaugh.


As habitat loss and fragmentation increase across ungulate ranges, identifying and prioritizing migration routes for conservation has taken on new urgency. Here we present a general framework using the Brownian bridge movement model (BBMM) that: (1) provides a probabilistic estimate of the migration routes of a sampled population, (2) distinguishes between route segments that function as stopover sites vs. those used primarily as movement corridors, and (3) prioritizes routes for conservation based upon the proportion of the sampled population that uses them. We applied this approach to a migratory mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) population in a pristine area of southwest Wyoming, USA, where 2000 gas wells and 1609 km of pipelines and roads have been proposed for development. Our analysis clearly delineated where migration routes occurred relative to proposed development and provided guidance for on-the-ground conservation efforts. Mule deer migration routes were characterized by a series of stopover sites where deer spent most of their time, connected by movement corridors through which deer moved quickly. Our findings suggest management strategies that differentiate between stopover sites and movement corridors may be warranted. Because some migration routes were used by more mule deer than others, proportional level of use may provide a reasonable metric by which routes can be prioritized for conservation. The methods we outline should be applicable to a wide range of species that inhabit regions where migration routes are threatened or poorly understood.