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Effects of Population Density on Selection of Resources by North American Elk
AuthorWalsh, Danielle R.
AdvisorStewart, Kelley M.
Natural Resources and Environmental Science
Wildlife Ecology & Conservation
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Population density of large mammals effects life-history characteristics as well as use of resources, but little research has been done to show this effect directly. I analyzed resource selection in female North American Elk (Cervus elaphus) in relation to density dependent processes across an experimental landscape in Starkey Experimental Forest and Range of the United States Forest Service. I hypothesized that selection of resources would vary for different population densities of elk resulting from differential levels of intraspecific competition as well as varying availability of resources at different densities. Selection by elk varied significantly at different densities for slope and elevation. At higher densities, elk selected for higher elevations and steeper slopes and at lower densities elk selected for lower elevations and shallower slopes. This use of resources indicates that at times of peak foraging, elk are trading off between locations of higher forage quality and higher availability due to increased intraspecific competition at higher densities. These results indicate that when evaluating resource selection by ungulates, population density relative to ecological carrying capacity should be included in those evaluations.