Know Thy Enemy: Experience Affects Elk Translocation Success in Risky Landscapes

  • FRAIR J
  • MERRILL E
  • ALLEN J
 et al. 
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Abstract

To maximize success, reintroduction programs generally select predator-free release areas having high habitat quality. Past studies provide little insight into recovery efforts where multiple, potentially novel, mortality hazards occur. The ability of translocated animals to cope with novel environments can be affected by both pre- and postrelease experiences with habitat and mortality risks. We experimentally released elk (Cervus elaphus) having different background experiences into an area where predators and hunters were prevalent and habitat quality varied. Using a competing risks approach, we predicted the postrelease survival of individuals and their fidelity to release areas as a function of animal source and postrelease encounters with forage resources and areas used by wolves (Canis lupus) or humans. Mortality patterns were consistent with prerelease exposure to mortality risks but not habitat differences among source areas. Wolf predation, poaching, and legal Native hunting were equivalent in magnitude and accounted for the majority of elk mortalities. Familiarity with either wolves or hunters prior to release yielded first-year survival rates 1.9–2.2 times greater than observed for animals naı¨ve to both risks. These 2 primary sources ofmortality traded off temporally as well as spatially given the proximity of roads, which wolves avoided. The prevalence of forage resources inrelease areas increased fidelity to release sites but coincided with higher mortality risk during the critical first year, potentially setting anecological trap for animals naı¨ve to local risks. Translocated individuals largely mediated their respective vulnerabilities over time, showingsecond-year survival rates equivalent to resident elk. In addition to using source populations that are able to adjust to mortality risks in releaseareas, spatial and temporal variation in mortality risks might be exploited when planning releases to increase the success of translocations intorisky landscapes.

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Authors

  • JACQUELINE L. FRAIR

  • EVELYN H. MERRILL

  • JAMES R. ALLEN

  • MARK S. BOYCE

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