Physiological acclimation of elk during population restoration in the Missouri Ozarks, USA

Ellen M. Pero, M. Colter Chitwood, Aaron M. Hildreth, Barbara J. Keller, Rami J. Millspaugh, Jason A. Sumners, Lonnie P. Hansen, Jason L. Isabelle, Creagh W. Breuner, Joshua J. Millspaugh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Conservation translocations - the intentional movement of animals to restore populations - have increased over the past 30 years to halt and reverse species declines and losses. However, there are many challenges translocated animals face that should be considered for restoration programs to be successful. Understanding how long it takes for translocated animals to acclimate to these challenges and their new landscape is a critical component of post-release population management. Physiological measures such as hormone responses are increasingly used to assess animal responses and acclimation to disturbances including translocation. We determined the physiological acclimation period of elk (Cervus canadensis) translocated to the Missouri Ozarks, USA, as part of a restoration effort. From 2011 to 2013, we translocated 108 GPS-radio-collared elk from Kentucky, USA, to Missouri, USA, and collected faecal samples for glucocorticoid metabolite extraction to use as an indicator of physiological acclimation. We modelled the response of population-wide faecal glucocorticoid metabolites (fGCMs) across the initial 9 years of the restoration in response to days following release and additional site-specific covariates. Presence of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) hunts and monthly precipitation levels were positively and negatively associated with fGCM levels, respectively. Concurrent with influences from site-specific conditions on the release landscape, fGCM levels declined following release. We identified a breakpoint in fGCM decline at ∼42 days following translocation releases suggesting elk acclimated physiologically relatively quickly compared to other species. The fast physiological acclimation by Missouri elk suggests effective use of temporary post-release management efforts. Determining how quickly animals acclimate following translocations allows researchers to tailor post-release management plans to each species' needs, thus maximizing the success of future translocation efforts while minimizing costs.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbercoac009
JournalConservation Physiology
Volume10
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 2022

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