Predation risk, elk, and aspen: tests of a behaviorally mediated trophic cascade in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem


  • Corresponding Editor: N. T. Hobbs.


Aspen in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are hypothesized to be recovering from decades of heavy browsing by elk due to a behaviorally mediated trophic cascade (BMTC). Several authors have suggested that wolves interact with certain terrain features, creating places of high predation risk at fine spatial scales, and that elk avoid these places, which creates refugia for plants. This hypothesized BMTC could release aspen from elk browsing pressure, leading to a patchy recovery in places of high risk. I tested whether four specific, hypothesized fine-scale risk factors are correlated with changes in current elk browsing pressure on aspen, or with aspen recruitment since wolf reintroduction, in the Daly Creek drainage in Yellowstone National Park, and near two aspen enclosures outside of the park boundary. Aspen were not responding to hypothesized fine-scale risk factors in ways consistent with the current BMTC hypothesis.