Consequences of a refuge for the predator-prey dynamics of a wolf-elk system in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Joshua F. Goldberg, Mark Hebblewhite, John Bardsley

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20 Scopus citations


Refugia can affect predator-prey dynamics via movements between refuge and non-refuge areas. We examine the influence of a refuge on population dynamics in a large mammal predator-prey system. Wolves (Canis lupus) have recolonized much of their former range in North America, and as a result, ungulate prey have exploited refugia to reduce predation risk with unknown impacts on wolf-prey dynamics. We examined the influence of a refuge on elk (Cervus elaphus) and wolf population dynamics in Banff National Park. Elk occupy the Banff townsite with little predation, whereas elk in the adjoining Bow Valley experience higher wolf predation. The Banff refuge may influence Bow Valley predator-prey dynamics through source-sink movements. To test this hypothesis, we used 26 years of wolf and elk population counts and the Delayed Rejection Adaptive Metropolis Markov chain Monte Carlo method to fit five predator-prey models: 1) with no source-sink movements, 2) with elk density-dependent dispersal from the refuge to the non-refuge, 3) with elk predation risk avoidance movements from the non-refuge to the refuge, 4) with differential movement rates between refuge and non-refuge, and 5) with short-term, source-sink wolf movements. Model 1 provided the best fit of the data, as measured by Akaike Information Criterion (AIC). In the top model, Banff and Bow Valley elk had median growth rates of 0.08 and 0.03 (95% credibility intervals [CIs]: 0.027-0.186 and 0.001-0.143), respectively, Banff had a median carrying capacity of 630 elk (95% CI: 471.9-2676.9), Bow Valley elk had a median wolf encounter rate of 0.02 (95% CI: 0.013-0.030), and wolves had a median death rate of 0.23 (95% CI: 0.146-0.335) and a median conversion efficiency of 0.07 (95% CI: 0.031-0.124). We found little evidence for potential source-sink movements influencing the predator-prey dynamics of this system. This result suggests that the refuge was isolated from the non-refuge.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere91417
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 26 2014


FundersFunder number
National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationNNX11AO47G


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