• Canis lupus;
  • Cervus elaphus;
  • elk;
  • habitat selection;
  • predation risk;
  • resource selection functions;
  • wolf;
  • Yellowstone National Park

Abstract: Prey species are thought to select habitats to obtain necessary resources while also avoiding predation. We examined whether habitat selection by elk (Cervus elaphus) changed following the reintroduction of wolves (Canis lupus) into Yellowstone National Park in 1995. Using conditional fixed-effects logistic regression to build habitat-selection models, we compared seasonal habitat selection by elk based on weekly elk radiolocations taken in 1985–1990 (without wolves) and 2000–2002 (with wolves). Fire-related habitat changes and climate likely interacted with wolf avoidance in shaping habitat selection by elk. In summer, when wolf activity was centered around dens and rendezvous sites, elk apparently avoided wolves by selecting higher elevations, less open habitat, more burned forest, and, in areas of high wolf density, steeper slopes than they had before wolf reintroduction. In winter, elk did not spatially separate themselves from wolves. Compared to the pre-wolf period, elk selected more open habitats in winter after wolf reintroduction, but did not change their selection of snow water equivalents (SWE) or slope. Elk appear to select habitats that allow them to avoid wolves during summer, but they may rely on other behavioral antipredator strategies, such as grouping, in winter. This study provides evidence that wolves can alter seasonal elk distribution and habitat selection, and demonstrates how the return of wolves to Yellowstone restores important ecosystem processes.