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Effects of Wolves on Elk and Cattle Behaviors: Implications for Livestock Production and Wolf Conservation

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Background: In many areas, livestock are grazed within wolf (Canis lupus) range. Predation and harassment of livestock by wolves creates conflict and is a significant challenge for wolf conservation. Wild prey, such as elk (Cervus elaphus), perform anti-predator behaviors. Artificial selection of cattle (Bos taurus) might have resulted in attenuation or absence of antipredator responses, or in erratic and inconsistent responses. Regardless, such responses might have implications on stress and fitness.

Methodology/Principal Findings: We compared elk and cattle anti-predator responses to wolves in southwest Alberta, Canada within home ranges and livestock pastures, respectively. We deployed satellite- and GPS-telemetry collars on wolves, elk, and cattle (n = 16, 10 and 78, respectively) and measured seven prey response variables during periods of wolf presence and absence (speed, path sinuosity, time spent head-up, distance to neighboring animals, terrain ruggedness, slope and distance to forest). During independent periods of wolf presence (n = 72), individual elk increased path sinuosity (Z = 22.720, P = 0.007) and used more rugged terrain (Z = 22.856, P = 0.004) and steeper slopes (Z = 23.065, P = 0.002). For cattle, individual as well as group behavioral analyses were feasible and these indicated increased path sinuosity (Z = 22.720, P = 0.007) and decreased distance to neighbors (Z = 22.551, P = 0.011). In addition, cattle groups showed a number of behavioral changes concomitant to wolf visits, with variable direction in changes.

Conclusions/Significance: Our results suggest both elk and cattle modify their behavior in relation to wolf presence, with potential energetic costs. Our study does not allow evaluating the efficacy of anti-predator behaviors, but indicates that artificial selection did not result in their absence in cattle. The costs of wolf predation on livestock are often compensated considering just the market value of the animal killed. However, society might consider refunding some additional costs (e.g., weight loss and reduced reproduction) that might be associated with the changes in cattle behaviors that we
documented.

Document: Effects-Elk-Cattle.pdf  PDF icon

Author(s): Isabelle Laporte, Tyler B. Muhly, Justin A. Pitt, Mike Alexander, Marco Musiani

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