Elk, Mule Deer, and Cattle Foraging Relationships on Foothill and Mountain Rangeland
foraging niche overlap
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CitationTorstenson, W. L., Mosley, J. C., Brewer, T. K., Tess, M. W., & Knight, J. E. (2006). Elk, mule deer, and cattle foraging relationships on foothill and mountain rangeland. Rangeland Ecology & Management, 59(1), 80-87.
PublisherSociety for Range Management
JournalRangeland Ecology & Management
AbstractForaging niche overlap among Rocky Mountain elk (Cervus elaphus nelsoni), Rocky Mountain mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus hemionus), and cattle (Bos taurus) was studied for 2 years on 37 000 ha of nonforested foothill and mountain habitat in northwestern Wyoming. Microhistological analysis was used to quantify botanical composition of ungulate diets from monthly fecal collections. Feeding habitat use was determined through monthly surveys from fixed-wing aircraft to record nonsolitary animals in nonforested habitat. Kulcyznski’s similarity index was used to calculate dietary and feeding habitat overlap among the 3 ungulates, and these 2 indices were multiplied together to estimate foraging niche overlap. In all seasons, elk and cattle consumed grass-dominated diets (mean = 61% and 81%, respectively), although elk diets were more diverse. Mule deer consumed more forbs and shrubs than either elk or cattle (P < 0.10). Foraging niche overlap was high (45%) between mule deer and elk in spring. Cattle in summer and fall had 60% foraging niche overlap with elk in spring, indicating that, in spring, elk foraged in many of the same places (largely sagebrush grassland) and ate diets similar in botanical composition to what cattle did during summer and fall (principally Festuca idahoensis, Pseudoroegneria spicata, and Achnatherum spp.). Foraging niche overlap also was high (41%-51%) between elk in winter and cattle in summer and fall. Therefore, if competitive or complementary relationships existed between elk and cattle, these interactions most likely occurred on sagebrush grasslands where cattle use in summer-fall was followed by elk use in winter-spring. We recommend that resource managers focus their forage utilization and range trend monitoring in foothill sagebrush grasslands.