The presence of locally abundant wildlife raises questions about natural regulation and ecological consequences of overpopulation. We sought to establish precise information about population size, structure, and productivity to examine the role of natural regulation in a closed tule elk (Cervus elaphus nannodes) population at Point Reyes National Seashore, California, USA. We estimated an instantaneous exponential growth rate of 0.19 with an adjusted R2 = 0.98 during 1998, 20 years after the elk were introduced. We estimated annual survival for adult cows of nearly 0.95. Calf survival from birth through the rut ending during October-November was 0.85. Male calves exhibited higher mortality than female calves. Cow mortality was associated with the calving season. We measured a 42% increase in cow:calf density from 0.733 ha-1 to 1.043 ha-1 during 1996-1998. We observed a density-correlated reduction in the rate of increase and in the cow:calf ratios prior to high precipitation El Nin??o Southern Oscillation years, 1993, 1996, and 1997, precipitation >1.23 m year-1. Given the high population growth rate and model evaluation of management scenarios, park managers will need to use a suite of approaches, such as contraception and removal, to maintain the elk population at levels at or near the closed-range carrying capacity for years between El Nin??o events.
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Population dynamics of tule elk at point Reyes National Seashore, California