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Date of this Version

5-2008

Comments

Published in Wildlife Monographs # 169 (May 2008); published by The Wildlife Society.

Abstract

We conducted a 3-year study (May 2003–Apr 2006) of mortality of northern Yellowstone elk (Cervus elaphus) calves to determine the cause for the recruitment decline (i.e., 33 calves to 13 calves/100 adult F) following the restoration of wolves (Canis lupus). We captured, fit with radiotransmitters, and evaluated blood characteristics and disease antibody seroprevalence in 151 calves ≤6 days old (68M:83F). Concentrations (x, SE) of potential condition indicators were as follows: thyroxine (T4; 13.8 μg/dL, 0.43), serum urea nitrogen (SUN; 17.4 mg/dL, 0.57), γ-glutamyltransferase (GGT; 66.4 IU/L, 4.36), gamma globulins (GG; 1.5 g/dL, 0.07), and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1; 253.6 ng/mL, 9.59). Seroprevalences were as follows: brucellosis (Brucella abortus; 3%), bovine-respiratory syncytial virus (3%), bovine-viral-diarrhea virus type 1 (25%), infectious-bovine rhinotracheitis (58%), and bovine parainfluenza-3 (32%). Serum urea nitrogen, GGT, GG, and IGF-1 varied with year; T4, SUN, and GG varied with age (P ≤ 0.01); and SUN varied by capture area (P=0.02). Annual survival was 0.22 (SE=0.035, n=149) and varied by calving area but not year. Neonates captured in the Stephens Creek/Mammoth area of Yellowstone National Park, USA, had annual survival rates >3x higher (0.54) than those captured in the Lamar Valley area (0.17), likely due to the higher predator density in Lamar Valley. Summer survival (20 weeks after radiotagging) was 0.29 (SE=0.05, n=116), and calving area, absolute deviation from median birth date, and GG were important predictors of summer survival. Survival during winter (Nov–Apr) was 0.90 (SE=0.05, n=42), and it did not vary by calving area or year. Sixty-nine percent (n=104) of calves died within the first year of life, 24% (n=36) survived their first year, and 7% (n=11) had unknown fates. Grizzly bears (Ursus arctos) and black bears (Ursus americanus) accounted for 58–60% (n = 60–62) of deaths, and wolves accounted for 14–17% (n = 15–18). Summer predation (95% of summer deaths) increased, and winter malnutrition (0% of winter deaths) decreased, compared with a similar study during 1987–1990 (72% and 58%, respectively). Physiological factors (e.g., low levels of GG) may predispose calves to predation. Also, the increase in bear numbers since wolf restoration and spatial components finer than the northern range should be considered when trying to determine the causes of the northern Yellowstone elk decline. This is the first study to document the predation impacts from reintroduced wolves on elk calf mortality in an ecosystem already containing established populations of 4 other major predators (i.e., grizzly and black bears, cougars [Puma concolor], and coyotes [Canis latrans]). The results are relevant to resource managers of the Yellowstone ecosystem in understanding the dynamics of the elk population, in providing harvest quota recommendations for local elk hunts to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service regarding wolf and grizzly bear recovery, and to all areas worldwide where predators are increasing, by providing managers with information about potential carnivore impacts on elk populations.

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