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Data from: Native forage mediates influence of irrigated agriculture on migratory behavior of elk

Cite this dataset

Barker, Kristin J.; Mitchell, Michael S.; Proffitt, Kelly M. (2019). Data from: Native forage mediates influence of irrigated agriculture on migratory behavior of elk [Dataset]. Dryad.


1. Ungulates migrate to maximize nutritional intake when forage varies seasonally. Populations of ungulates often include both migratory and non-migratory individuals, but the mechanisms driving individual differences in migratory behavior are not well-understood. 2. We quantified associations between hypothesized drivers of partial migration and the likelihood of migration for individual ungulates that experienced a range of environmental conditions and anthropogenic influences. 3. We evaluated the effects of forage variation, conspecific density, and human land uses on migratory behavior of 308 adult female elk in 16 herds across western Montana. 4. We found irrigated agriculture on an individual’s winter range reduced migratory behavior, but individuals were more likely to migrate away from irrigated agricultural areas if better forage was available elsewhere or if they experienced high conspecific density on their winter range. When the forage available during the summer growing season varied predictably between years, elk were more likely to migrate regardless of whether they had access to irrigated agriculture. 5. Our study shows that predictable availability of beneficial native forage can encourage migration even for ungulates with irrigated agriculture on their winter range. Perturbations that can affect the forage available to ungulates include wildfires, timber harvest, livestock grazing, and changing weather patterns. If these or other disturbances negatively affect forage on summer ranges of migrants, or if they cause forage to vary unpredictably across space and time, our results suggest migratory behavior may decline as a result.

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United States