Intersexual social segregation at small spatial scales is prevalent in ruminants that are sexually dimorphic in body size. Explaining social segregation, however, from hypotheses of how intersexual size differences affects the foraging process of males and females has had mixed results. We studied whether body size influences on forage behavior, intersexual social incompatibility or both might influence social segregation in a population of Roosevelt elk (Cervus elaphus roosevelt) that declined 40% over 5 y. Most males and females in the population occurred in the same forage patches, meadows, but occupied different parts of meadows and most groups were overwhelming comprised of one sex. The extent of segregation varied slightly with changing elk density. Cropping rate, our surrogate of forage ingestion, of males in mixed-sex groups differed from males in male-only groups at high, but not low, elk density. In a prior study of intersexual social interactions it was shown that females avoided groups containing ???6 males. Therefore, we predicted that females should avoid parts of meadows where groups of males ???6 were prevalent. Across the 5 y of study this prediction held because ???5% of all females were found in parts of meadows where median aggregation sizes of males were ???6. Social segregation was coupled to body size influences on forage ingestion at high density and social incompatibility was coupled to social segregation regardless of elk density.
Additional publication details
Roosevelt elk density and social segregation: Foraging behavior and females avoiding larger groups of males