Nutritional condition of elk in rocky mountain national park

Western North American Naturalist
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We tested the hypothesis that elk in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) were at ecological carrying capacity by determining herd-specific levels of nutritional condition and fecundity. Ingesta-free body fat levels in adult cows that were lactating were 10.6% (s = 1.7; range = 6.2-15.4) and 7.7% (s = 0.5; range = 5.9-10.1) in November 2001 for the Horseshoe and Moraine Park herds, respectively. Cows that were not lactating were able to accrue significantly more body fat: 14.0% (s = 1.1; range = 7.7-19.3) and 11.5% (s = 0.8; range = 8.6-15.1) for the Horseshoe and Moraine Park herds, respectively. Cow elk lost most of their body fat over winter (April 2002 levels were 3.9% [s = 0.4] and 2.9% [s = 0.4] for the Horseshoe and Moraine Park herds, respectively). Nutritional condition indicated that both Horseshoe Park and Moraine Park elk were well below condition levels elk can achieve on very good-excellent nutrition (i.e., >15% body fat; Cook et al. 2004) and were comparable to other free-ranging elk populations. However, condition levels were higher than those expected at a "food-limited" carrying capacity, and a proportion of elk in each herd were able to achieve condition levels indicative of very good-excellent nutrition. Elk in RMNP are likely regulated and/or limited by a complex combination of density-independent (including significant heterogeneity in forage conditions across RMNP's landscape) and density-dependent processes, as condition levels contradict a simple density-dependent model of a population at ecological carrying capacity.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Nutritional condition of elk in rocky mountain national park
Series title Western North American Naturalist
Volume 65
Issue 3
Year Published 2005
Language English
Larger Work Type Article
Larger Work Subtype Journal Article
Larger Work Title Western North American Naturalist
First page 329
Last page 334
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