Spatiotemporal covariates, individual characteristics, and mountain lion harvest as potential sources of variation in elk calf survival

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


To understand the efficacy of increasing the harvest of large carnivores for increasing elk calf survival, we compared calf survival data collected from two elk herds before, during, and after a mountain lion harvest treatment which consisted of increases in prescribed mountain lion harvest quotas. We collected survival data from 534 radio-tagged elk calves in both the East Fork and West Fork herds of the upper Bitterroot Valley of west-central Montana. We used these data and time-to-event analyses to estimate the annual rates of survival and cause-specific mortality for elk calves in the study, as well as estimate the relationships between elk calf survival and several factors previously related to variation in annual elk calf survival. Average annual rates of survival for female calves before the mountain lion harvest treatment (pre-treatment era) were 0.38 (95% CI = 0.00-0.54) in the West Fork herd, and 0.37 (95% CI = 0.09-0.65) in the East Fork herd. Annual rates of survival for female calves during the harvest treatment (during-treatment era) were 0.65 (95% CI = 0.47-0.83) in the West Fork herd and 0.65 (95% CI = 0.46-0.87) in the East Fork herd. Annual rates of survival for female calves 4-5 years post-harvest treatment (post-treatment era) were 0.46 (95% CI = 0.31-0.61) in the West Fork herd and 0.47 (95% CI = 0.32-0.62) in the East Fork herd. Survival of male calves followed a similar pattern. Rates of mountain lion predation were highest in the pre-treatment era, moderate in the during-treatment era, and lowest in the post-treatment era. However, decreased rates of mountain lion predation following mountain lion harvest treatment coincided with increased probability of non-predation related mortality, and short-term changes in annual elk calf survival. Our results suggest that mountain lion harvest management prescriptions designed to achieve moderate, short-term reductions in mountain lion population abundance may be effective in allowing for short-term increases in elk calf recruitment and may be an effective management tool to increase calf recruitment.




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