Functional attributes of ungulate migration: landscape features facilitate movement and access to forage.

Research paper by Kevin L KL Monteith, Matthew M MM Hayes, Matthew J MJ Kauffman, Holly E HE Copeland, Hall H Sawyer

Indexed on: 18 Oct '18Published on: 18 Oct '18Published in: Ecological applications : a publication of the Ecological Society of America


Long-distance migration by terrestrial mammals is a phenomenon critical to the persistence of populations, but such migrations are declining globally because of over-harvest, habitat loss, and movement barriers. Increasingly, there is a need to improve existing routes, mitigate route segments affected by anthropogenic disturbance, and in some instances, determine whether alternative routes are available. Using a hypothesis-driven approach, we identified landscape features associated with the primary functional attributes, stopovers and movement corridors, of spring migratory routes for mule deer in two study areas using resource selection functions. Patterns of selection for landscape attributes of movement corridors and stopovers mostly were similar; however, landscape features associated with movement corridors aligned better with areas that facilitated movement, whereas selection of stopovers was consistent with sites offering early access to spring forage. For movement corridors, deer selected for dry sites, low elevation, and low anthropogenic disturbance. For stopovers, deer selected for dry sites, with consistently early green-up across years, south-southwesterly aspects, low elevation, and low anthropogenic disturbance. Stopovers and movement corridors of a migratory route presumably promote different functions, but for a terrestrial migrant, patterns of habitat selection indicate that the same general habitat attributes may facilitate both movement and foraging in spring. Our findings emphasize the roles of topographical wetness, vegetation phenology, and anthropogenic disturbance in shaping use of the landscape during migration for this large herbivore. Avoiding human disturbance and tracking ephemeral forage resources appear to be a consistent pattern during migration, which reinforces the notion that movement during migration has a nutritional underpinning and disturbance potentially alters the net benefits of migration. © 2018 by the Ecological Society of America.