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Winter Foraging Behavior of Elk in the Shrub-Steppe of Washington

Scott M. McCorquodale
The Journal of Wildlife Management
Vol. 57, No. 4 (Oct., 1993), pp. 881-890
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Wildlife Society
DOI: 10.2307/3809093
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3809093
Page Count: 10
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Winter Foraging Behavior of Elk in the Shrub-Steppe of Washington
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Abstract

Numerous models of ungulate foraging behavior have been published, but data on foraging behavior for wild North American ungulates relevant to model testing are scarce. I studied the detailed foraging behavior of elk (Cervus elaphus) from autumn through early spring in Washington's shrub-steppe using focal animal sampling and collected corollary data on elk diets, forage quality, and home ranges. I tested the hypotheses that foraging effort is proportional to energetic payoffs determined by the quality and abundance of various forages, and elk home-range size reflects relative foraging movements (i.e., macro and micro movements are related). Elk were mobile foragers during autumn and spring and were relatively sedentary during mid-winter. High mobility was associated with low diet diversity and generally with reduced forage harvesting rates. This mobile foraging occurred during periods of higher quality forage availability. Thus, mobile foraging appeared to reflect increased effort when energetic payoffs of selective foraging were enhanced. Degree of dietary specialization was limited by the relative abundance of preferred forages, being greater when grass quality was high, and less when forb quality was high. Indices of elk movement while foraging were also positively related to home-range size and distance between relocations of radio-collared elk. These data are generally consistent with ungulate foraging model predictions.

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