Differences in Body Condition of Elk, Cervus elaphus, by Location in Yellowstone’s Northern Range By Auri Pfeifer University of Washington School of Environmental & Forest Sciences Results Introduction • My initial inquiry, that elk in certain locations in northern YNP have a significantly lower BCS than others, proved true. In BDCP, the elk have a significantly lower overall BCS than the rest of the study area. • This was not in line with my prediction since BDCP is close to Mammoth and should not have had a lower BCS than the Lamar Valley. • The elk surveyed in BDCP were not significantly more vigilant than other locations. • The amount of time elk spent vigilant had no significant effect on BCS for any location. In winter, Rocky Mountain Elk (Cervus elaphus) are the main source of prey for the Grey Wolf (Canis lupus) in the northern range of Yellowstone National Park (YNP). Indeed, elk make up approximately 90% of wolf kills (Smith et al. 2004). Since the reintroduction of wolves in 1995, there has been concern that the elk in Yellowstone are at risk of decline both in numbers and birth rate (Barber-Meyer et al. 2008). One way that wolves might affect elk populations is by inducing vigilance, which can limit foraging and lead to declining condition. If so, then elk in areas of the northern range where wolf risk is high may be in relatively poor condition. Differences in BCS by location Male elk interacting with a wolf yearling Hypothesis • Lone female elk I first wanted to see if certain locations within the northern range of YNP would yield a statistically significant lower Body Condition Score (BCS). Upon finding differences between the locations, I formed the following hypothesis: • Elk in risky locations would have a lower BCS due to spending more time vigilant. • I predicted that you would see elk spending more time vigilant and have a lower BCS in locations furthest from Mammoth (where there is the most human development and low wolf predation risk). Specifically, I predicted that the Lamar Valley would have the lowest BCS. Discussion Fortin said that the time elk in YNP spent vigilant reduced their ability to forage, (2004). A lower ability to forage should in theory yield a lower BCS. One reason this was not the case could be that we are missing several ratings of BCS for elk that were surveyed. It is possible that individuals that were recorded as being vigilant often were not close enough for a BCS, but would have been given a low score. Also, many of the sample sizes were small. In later years, the larger sample sizes for each location may yield more significant results. For future research I suggest raising the occurrence of surveys in locations away from Mammoth (this is where the majority of the follows were done) and selecting elk that you can adequately measure their BCS. Acknowledgments Materials and Methods Vigilance and condition data were collected in March from 2012 to 2015 in the Northern Range of Yellowstone National Park as part of ESRM 459 (Wildlife Conservation in Northwest Ecosystems). Each year, students in this class conduct elk focal follows at locations off of highway 89 and highway 212. The follows involve observing between 1 and 4 individuals at a location for 15 minutes each. During these 15 minute intervals, we record what action the elk was doing (vigilant, foraging, resting, traveling) every 30 seconds. To determine the condition of the individual elk that was being surveyed, we used binoculars to examine their ribs, spine, hip bone / rump, tail head, and belly. Each category was given a Body Condition Score (BCS) of 1-5, 5 being the highest. While evaluating the environment and surroundings, we recorded what location we were at, the gender of the individual, the size of the herd, the gender composition of the herd, and the date. We divide the Northern Range into several sections – Mammoth, Blacktail Deer Creek Plateau (BDCP), Hellroaring, Tower Junction, Slough Creek, and Lamar Valley. All of this data was entered into excel. From there I conducted several two-tailed t-tests to determine if there was a significant difference between the locations we surveyed. I regarded a P-Value of 0.05 or below as significant. Aaron Wirsing and John Marzluff in YNP BDCP is closer to Mammoth than I predicted the location with the lowest BCS would be. I thank Aaron Wirsing for going on the trips to Yellowstone and assisting me with my capstone. I also thank the instructors John Marzluff, Monika Moskal, and David Manuwal for driving and assisting the groups with the surveys. Lastly, I thank all the students who contributed to this project by doing the elk follows.