First steps into the wild - exploration behavior of european bison after the first reintroduction in Western Europe

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Abstract

Biodiversity is rapidly declining globally. One strategy to help to conserve species is to breed species in captivity and release them into suitable habitats. The way that reintroduced animals explore new habitats and/or disperse from the release site is rarely studied in detail and represents key information for the success of reintroduction projects. The European bison (Bison bonasus L. 1758) was the largest surviving herbivore of the post-glacial mega- fauna in Europe before it became extinct in the wild, surviving only in captivity since 1919. We investigated the exploration behavior of a herd of European bison reintroduced into the Rothaargebirge, a commercial forest in low range mountain intensively used and densely populated by humans, in the first six months after release.We focused on three questions: (1) how did the European bison move and utilize the habitat on a daily basis, (2) how did the animals explore the new environment, and (3) did their habitat preferences change over time. The European bison dispersed away from their previous enclosure at an average rate of 539 m/month, with their areas of daily use ranging from 70 to 173 ha, their movement ranging from 3.6 km to 5.2 km per day, and their day-to-day use of areas ranged between 389 and 900 m. We could identify three major exploration bouts, when the animals entered and explored areas previously unknown to them. During the birthing phase, the European bison reduced daily walking distances, and the adult bull segregated from the herd for 58 days. Around rut, roaming behavior of the herd increased slightly. The animals preferred spruce forest, wind thrown areas and grassland, all of which are food abundant habitat types, and they avoided beech forest. Habitat preference differed slightly between phases of the study period, probably due to phenological cycles. After six months, the complete summer home range was 42.5 km2. Our study shows that a small free-ranging herd of Euro- pean bison can live in an area intensively used by humans and describes in detail the initial roaming behavior and habitat utilization of the animals.

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Schmitz, P., Caspers, S., Warren, P., & Witte, K. (2015). First steps into the wild - exploration behavior of european bison after the first reintroduction in Western Europe. PLoS ONE, 10(11). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0143046

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