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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Boise, Idaho » Northwest Watershed Research Center » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #233025

Title: Intrinsic movement patterns of grazing Rocky Mountains elk (Cervus elaphus nelsonii) and beef cattle (Bos taurus)

item Clark, Pat
item Ganskopp, David

Submitted to: Society for Range Management Meeting Abstracts
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/3/2008
Publication Date: 2/8/2009
Citation: Johnson, M.D., Clark, P., Ganskopp, D.C., Woodside, G.J., Vavra, M., Louhaichi, M., Johnson, D.E. 2009. Intrinsic movement patterns of grazing Rocky Mountains elk (Cervus elaphus nelsonii) and beef cattle (Bos taurus). Society for Range Management Meeting Abstracts.

Interpretive Summary: Although behavior and range-use patterns of beef cattle and Rock Mountain elk are commonly assumed to differ, thus requiring different management approaches to prevent or mitigate resource impacts by these species, the manner of these differences is still far from clear. We used GPS tracking collars of our own design, to evaluate movement patterns exhibited by mature cow elk and cattle in the Blue Mountains of northeastern Oregon during summer (peak vegetation production) and fall (dry forage) seasons. GPS data collected by the collars at 1-second intervals revealed that cattle, contrary to conventional wisdom, spent more time moving than elk but cattle moves occurred over shorter distances and at lower mean velocities. Although preliminary, these findings suggest some of the basic tenets on which cattle/elk management strategies are based may need revisiting.

Technical Abstract: Rocky Mountain elk and cattle are important components of mountainous ecosystems in the western United States and exist contemporaneously on many landscapes. These animals utilize similar resources yet the evolutionary lines that produced them have been distinct for approximately 30 million years. Thus they represent two considerably different yet successful evolutionary approaches to the challenge of survival. Elk and cattle differ considerably in their size, anatomy, physiology and, we hypothesize, in spatial-temporal behavior. This study was designed to compare and contrast fine-scale movement patterns of cattle and elk. Ten elk and 10 cows were fitted with GPS collars that recorded positional fixes and velocities each second. Four trials were conducted during the summer and fall of 2007. The study site was 35 km west of La Grande, Oregon (45.2422°N, 118.5124°W) on the USFS Starkey Experimental Range. Positional information was parsed into positions when animals were stationary for 10 minutes or longer and shape files created. Times when animals were moving or had a stop and go movement pattern were classified and durations extracted. Cattle spent more time moving than elk averaged over all trials but moved shorter distances. Patterns of movement for both species are presented.