Contrasting Effects of Wolves and Human Hunters on Elk Behavioral Responses to Predation Risk

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Abstract

ABSTRACT  Prey behavioral responses to predation risk in wolf-ungulate-plant systems are of interest to wildlife managers. Using Global Positioning System data collected from telemetry-collared elk (Cervus elaphus) and wolves (Canis lupus), we evaluated elk behavioral responses to spatial and temporal variation in wolf- and human-predation risk on a winter range in the Greater Yellowstone Area, USA. We found elk changed grouping patterns and increased movement rates as predation risk increased and that these behavioral changes were habitat dependent. Elk behavioral responses to wolf- and human-predation risk were similar; however, responses to human-predation risk were stronger than responses to wolf-predation risk. These results suggest that predation risk from wolves or human hunters may result in elk spending more time on private rangelands away from public-land winter ranges, which may exacerbate problems of landowner tolerance of elk on livestock pastures. However, increased movement and changing grouping patterns on winter ranges may also disperse elk grazing impacts and lessen elk impacts on any one area.

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