Selection of vegetation types and density of bison in an arid ecosystem

Product Type: 

Journal Article

Year: 

2015

Author(s): 

Schoenecker, K. A., Nielsen, S. E., Zeigenfuss, L. C. and Pague, C. A.

Suggested Citation: 

Schoenecker, K. A., Nielsen, S. E., Zeigenfuss, L. C. and Pague, C. A. (2015), Selection of vegetation types and density of bison in an arid ecosystem. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 79: 1117–1128. doi: 10.1002/jwmg.940

Understanding species habitat selection and factors that drive selection are key components for conservation. We report the first resource selection functions (RSFs) for bison inhabiting an arid ecosystem and use them with density estimates of bison to estimate the number of bison that could be supported if the bison range were expanded to federal lands in the San Luis Valley of Colorado. We derived RSFs for vegetation types using locations of plains bison collected weekly over 3 years from 2005 to 2007. Bison selected for wet or mesic grassland habitats in all seasons. Wetland selection by bison was predicted to be 18 times greater than that of rabbitbrush vegetation, the reference category, and selection of meadows was predicted to be 11 times greater than that of the rabbitbrush type. Willow-dominated plant communities were strongly avoided. Cottonwood communities were also avoided, with the exception of some moderate levels of selection in fall. The willow and cottonwood communities have an understory with low biomass of herbaceous species and low productivity in this arid system. Based on the RSFs we predicted that in the San Luis Valley of Colorado up to 2,379 bison could be supported in similar habitats under Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) jurisdiction, and up to 759 bison could be supported on adjacent National Park Service (NPS) land. This modeling framework provides a conservation tool for the restoration of bison to their historical habitats, and has utility for application to other terrestrial species where assumptions are met. Published 2015. This article is a U.S. Government work and is in the public domain in the USA.

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