Seasonal home ranges and habitat selection of three elk (Cervus elaphus) herds in North Dakota
Changes in land use have resulted in range shifts of many wildlife species, including those entering novel environments, resulting in the critical need to understand their spatial ecology to inform ecosystem effects and management decisions. Dispersing elk (Cervus elaphus) were colonizing areas of suitable habitat in the Northern Great Plains, USA, resulting in crop depredation complaints in these areas. Although state resource managers had little information on these elk herds, limited evidence suggested temporal movements into Canada. We collected and analyzed essential information on home range and habitat selection for 3 elk herds residing in North Dakota. We captured 5 adult female elk in each study area, affixed global positioning system collars, and monitored them for 1 year (2016–2017). We estimated diel period, seasonal, and hunting season home ranges using Brownian Bridge Movement Models for each individual. We analyzed habitat selection using multinomial logit models to test for differences in use of land classes, and for departures from proportionate use based on random sampling; our predictor variables included individual elk, diel period, and season. Home ranges differed between the 3 herds, seasons, and diel period; gun and winter season home ranges were both larger than in summer, as was night when compared with day. Female elk generally restricted themselves to cover during the day and entered open areas at night and during winter months. Our results also suggest that elk in our study areas tended to seek more cover, and in the case of our Turtle Mountain study area, some cross into Canada during gun season. Our study provides a better understanding of the spatial ecology of elk in the Northern Great Plains while highlighting the need for enhanced international cooperative management efforts.