Supplemental feeding alters migration of a temperate ungulate

Authors


  • Corresponding Editor: N. T. Hobbs.

Abstract

Conservation of migration requires information on behavior and environmental determinants. The spatial distribution of forage resources, which migration exploits, often are altered and may have subtle, unintended consequences. Supplemental feeding is a common management practice, particularly for ungulates in North America and Europe, and carryover effects on behavior of this anthropogenic manipulation of forage are expected in theory, but have received limited empirical evaluation, particularly regarding effects on migration. We used global positioning system (GPS) data to evaluate the influence of winter feeding on migration behavior of 219 adult female elk (Cervus elaphus) from 18 fed ranges and 4 unfed ranges in western Wyoming. Principal component analysis revealed that the migratory behavior of fed and unfed elk differed in distance migrated, and the timing of arrival to, duration on, and departure from summer range. Fed elk migrated 19.2 km less, spent 11 more days on stopover sites, arrived to summer range 5 days later, resided on summer range 26 fewer days, and departed in the autumn 10 days earlier than unfed elk. Time-to-event models indicated that differences in migratory behavior between fed and unfed elk were caused by altered sensitivity to the environmental drivers of migration. In spring, unfed elk migrated following plant green-up closely, whereas fed elk departed the feedground but lingered on transitional range, thereby delaying their arrival to summer range. In autumn, fed elk were more responsive to low temperatures and precipitation events, causing earlier departure from summer range than unfed elk. Overall, supplemental feeding disconnected migration by fed elk from spring green-up and decreased time spent on summer range, thereby reducing access to quality forage. Our findings suggest that ungulate migration can be substantially altered by changes to the spatial distribution of resources, including those of anthropogenic origin, and that management practices applied in one season may have unintended behavioral consequences in subsequent seasons.

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