Summer elk calf survival in a partially migratory population

Jodi E. Berg, Daniel R. Eacker, Mark Hebblewhite, Evelyn H. Merrill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Decomposing variation in juvenile recruitment is a key component of understanding population dynamics for partially migratory ungulates. We investigated reproductive parameters of adult female elk (Cervus canadensis) with calves at heel, and survivorship, cause-specific mortality, and intrinsic and extrinsic factors affecting risk of mortality for calves in a partially migratory elk population from 2013–2016 in Alberta, Canada. Elk calves born to resident mothers had 45% lower survivorship on average compared to migrant calves (0.24 vs. 0.69) and nearly twice the mortality rate (0.37 vs. 0.19) from bears (Ursus spp.), the dominant source of mortality. Contrary to our predictions, we found that increasing levels of maternal ingesta-free body fat were associated with increasing risk of calf mortality, indicating predation may have overwhelmed nutritional effects. We found no evidence that timing of calf birth or birth weight differed between migratory tactics or influenced mortality risk. We found that as percentage of cut forest increased, risk of calf mortality marginally decreased, which benefited migrant elk that were exposed to more clear-cuts compared to residents. Exposure to bear predation risk was unimportant during the hiding phase (≤10 days after birth) for either migratory tactic, presumably because neonatal hiding behavior reduced vulnerability. In contrast, bear predation risk was important for mortality risk after 10 days in age, especially for resident elk calves, which were exposed to higher bear predation risk compared to migrants. We conclude that relative differences in bear predation between migratory tactics are contributing to the dynamics of partial migration in this population through additive effects on calf mortality. Thus, wildlife managers should anticipate that recovering grizzly bear (U. arctos) populations may substantially lower elk recruitment through effects on summer calf survival, especially in areas with diverse carnivore assemblages.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere22330
JournalJournal of Wildlife Management
Volume87
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2023

Keywords

  • Cervus canadensis
  • bear
  • cause-specific mortality
  • cougar
  • forage
  • migrant
  • predation risk
  • resident
  • resource selection
  • ungulate
  • wolf

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