The demographic and nutritional benefits of urban habitat use by elk

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McKenzie, John A.

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University of Guelph

Abstract

Recent wolf ('Canis lupus') recolonization and non-native vegetation in urban areas suggest the hypotheses that urban environments may provide a refuge from predation or access to high quality forage for elk (' Cervus elaphus') in Banff National Park. I tested whether habitat selection patterns, survival and diet quality were consistent with these hypotheses. Habitat selection and survival were consistent with the predation risk hypothesis, as elk preferred urban habitats and elk that used these habitats had a higher survival rate than elk that used these habitats to a lesser extent. The forage quality hypothesis was also consistent with habitat selection and diet quality during winter and spring. Elk preferred urban grassland habitat and animals that used these habitats in winter and spring showed higher levels of fecal nitrogen. I conclude that the use of urban environments leads to reduced encounters with predators and improved access to high quality forage during winter.

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Keywords

Elk, Urban habitat, Demographic benefits, Nutritional benefits, Forage

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