Effects of Wolves on Elk Population Dynamics and Habitat Use in Wisconsin
In systems where they co-occur, predation by wolves can be an important driver of elk population dynamics and habitat use. Most studies of impacts of wolves on elk come from western North America, where elk populations have been long established and predator-prey communities are more diverse.In the Great Lakes region, effects of wolves on elk are poorly understood due to a relatively small number of established elk herds existing with wolves. Because wolf densities tend to be much higher than those in western regions, wolves may have an increased capacity to limit elk populations, but the extent to which this occurs is unknown. In this study, we propose to quantify how wolves influence elk populations. Our research will not only estimate the relationship between increasing wolf densities and elk population growth, but also identify the mechanisms by which wolves affect elk population trend (e.g. increased adult mortality, use of suboptimal habitat, limited recruitment, etc.) and identify the habitat factors associated with direct predation risk. In doing so, this project will benefit elk restoration efforts in the region by providing guidance for habitat and population management that could benefit mitigate the negative effects of wolf populations.
Value of permanent forest openings to Rocky Mountain elk in Wisconsin
The importance of open areas with early successional forage species has been well documented in elk. Within the deciduous forest biome of eastern North America, fire suppression and land use changes have altered habitat composition since the early 1900s. In the Great Lakes region, the pre-settlement mosaic of grasslands, open woodlands, and closed forests have largely shifted to human-dominated land uses (agriculture, urban areas) and dense forest stands. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and their partners have made significant investments in the development of permanent wildlife openings within the northern elk range. This project addresses a need to ensure that investments in elk habitat management are achieving desired outcomes and are cost-effective. Using existing elk telemetry data and new vegetation sampling, we are evaluating the use and habitat quality of managed forest openings relative to other forest types in Wisconsin’s Northern Elk range. Specifically, we are examining whether elk selectively use forest openings on landscape- and home range-scales, and whether different opening management techniques produce different forage value to elk.
Funding and Partners
- Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
- Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources