Dr. Monica G.Turner
Department of Integrative Biology
University of Wisconsin
430 Lincoln Dr.
Madison, WI 53706
Ecosystem and
Landscape Ecology Lab
Aerial view of mountain pine beetle damage

Cervus elaphus

Relative frequency of elk step lengths in 4 study landscapes. Wisconsin elk had the highest frequency of short steps, and Alberta and Yellowstone elk were similar and had the longest steps.

Building a mechanistic basis for landscape ecology of ungulate populations


Dean Anderson, James Forester, M.G.Turner


Canis lupus, Cervus elaphus, heterogeneity, movement, multi-scale, telemetry

Project Summary

This research is focused on understanding how spatial heterogeneity shapes elk (Cervus elaphus) movement, population distribution and dynamics at multiple scales in complex landscapes. We conduct field research at 4 geographically distinct sites in Alberta, Ontario, Wisconsin, and Yellowstone National Park using traditional VHF and newly developed global positioning system (GPS) biotelemetry. Studying elk in diverse landscapes using the same approach allows us to test the generality of observations at any one site and to understand the range of movement and habitat-use patterns exhibited by a generalist ungulate. We employ a multi-faceted research program that integrates empirical data collection with spatial modeling and GIS analyses.

Key Findings

  • Methods for correcting bias in GPS radiotelemetry data.

  • Resource selection patterns were seasonal and scale dependent, with landscape covariates differing among scales.
  • Elk moved longer distances (Fig. 1), and home ranges were larger in the coarse-grained landscapes.
  • Elk moved frequently within their home ranges, with preferred areas receiving high use because of multiple visits rather than long residence periods.
  • In Ontario, bi-phasic movements were common, with short movements clustered in foraging areas and long movements between foraging areas.
  • Winter foraging decisions by elk reflected fine-scale habitat structure related to snow depth, slope, and forage biomass.
  • Wolf (Canis lupus) predation has a major influence on elk movements, habitat use, and survival.
  • Perceived predation risk influences vigilance, movement decisions and trophic cascades.

Broader Impacts

  • Thirty-four publications to date, with ~30 additional papers in preparation
  • Twelve graduate student theses, and 6 trained postdoctoral research associates.
  • More than 35 undergraduates have participated in our field studies.
  • Two organized symposia at professional meetings.
  • Numerous public outreach efforts.
  • Coverage from local media at all sites.

Selected Publications

Anderson, D.P., M.G. Turner, J.D. Forester, J. Zhu, M.S. Boyce, H. Beyer, L. Stowell.  2005.  Scale-dependent habitat use by elk (Cervus elaphus) in Wisconsin, U.S.A.  Journal of Wildlife Management 69:298-310.

Anderson D.P., J.D. Forester, M.G. Turner, J. Frair, E. Merrill, D. Fortin, H. Beyer, J.S. Mao, M.S. Boyce, and J. Fryxell.  2005.  Factors influencing female home-range sizes in elk (Cervus elaphus) in North American landscapes. Landscape Ecology 20:257-271.

Anderson, D.P., T.P. Rooney, M.G. Turner, D.M. Waller, A.P. Wydeven, J.E. Wiedenhoeft, D.E. Beyer, W.S. Alverson, J.D. Forester.  Do wolves limit deer impacts? Spatially variable trophic cascades in the Great Lake states.  (In preparation).

Forester, J. D., A. R. Ives, M. G. Turner, D. P. Anderson, D. Fortin, H. Beyer, D. W. Smith and M. S. Boyce. 2007. State-space models link elk movement patterns to landscape characteristics in Yellowstone National Park. Ecological Monographs 77(2):285-299.

Forester, J. D., D. P. Anderson and M. G. Turner. 2007. Do high density patches of coarse wood and regenerating sapling create browsing refugia for aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx.) in Yellowstone National Park (USA)? Forest Ecology and Management 253: 211-219.

Anderson, D. P., J. D. Forester, and M. G. Turner. 2008. When to slow down? Elk residence rates on an heterogeneous landscape. Journal of Mammalogy 89(1):105–114.


Collaborators include Peter Turchin, Mark S. Boyce, Evelyn H. Merrill, John M. Fryxell, and many others as well as staff of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Funding was provided by the National Science Foundation.