Date of Award

2016

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS) in Biology

Department

Biology

Abstract

"Since the 1960's, Rocky Mountain elk (Cervus elaphus nelsoni) populations have declined steadily in the Clearwater Basin in north-central Idaho. The Clearwater Basin Collaborative (CBC) was formed with the goal of restoring healthy elk populations to the Clearwater Basin. They initiated this study by collaring 53 cow elk from four distinct areas. I analyzed elk detection and GIS-based habitat data from June 15-September 15 2014 to address one of the CBC's objectives: identifying elk habitat use responses on summer-autumn range. Ground-truth surveys are necessary to verify satellite-derived data are analogous to actual vegetation components. I used a proportion analysis to compare satellite derived cover type and forest cover to the true on-the-ground cover type and forest cover classification. All habitats had over 85% accuracy in the cover type validation analysis and 84% in the percent forest cover validation analysis. To assess the summer-autumn habitat selection of elk I used a new modeling approach with a use-availability design, the Synoptic model, to assess the importance of topography (valley and midslope), forage emergence and senescence (NDVI and NDVI*forest), the type of habitat (shrub, forested, or herbaceous), and forest cover (high and low) to elk habitat selection. The relative variable importance of habitat variables in descending order was: forest, valley, shrub, lowcover, NDVI and NDVI*forest, midslope, and highcover. I used a MANOVA to test for overall differences in mean habitat selection coefficients among populations. MANOVA results showed there was no significant difference in habitat selection among populations. Then, I examined how distribution patterns related to habitat variables by calculating a habitat suitability index (HSI) for each of the four populations. Overall, elk showed a positive relationship with shrub and forest, and a negative relationship with valleys and high cover in the four populations. The results of this study indicated that elk select for a juxtaposition of both forage and cover, and used high to moderate elevations during the summer. The CBC has attributed declines in the Clearwater Basin elk populations to the loss of early-seral shrub habitat and subsequent limiting effects of summer-autumn nutrition. Based on this analysis, elk populations would be enhanced by converting areas of contiguous forest cover to a diversity of seral communities, particularly early-seral shrubs with adjacent forest stands. These results will help us recognize resources important for elk conservation or habitat improvement, and inform ongoing research in identifying elk nutritional status and population responses on summer-autumn range"--Leaf iv.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

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