Where the buffalo roam...
This research is designed to take advantage of existing collaborations and GPS data on bison space use from across North America, including the Henry Mountains and Book Cliffs in Utah, San Luis Valley in Colorado, Witchita Mountains and Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Kansas, the American Prairie Reserve in Montana, and others throughout North America. Remotely sensed data will also be used as much as possible to allow for quick data collection across large scales, and to allow for extrapolation and comparability of results to potential bison restoration areas.
A definition of the spatial scale necessary for bison ecological recovery has, until recently, been subjective. Recent advances in spatial analytics, however, have allowed for these to be tested explicitly. First passage time analysis measures the search effort along a movement path, thus identifying the scale of ecologically relevant movement behaviors, by incorporating step lengths, turning angles, and tortuosity of the movement behaviors from GPS data. This estimates the spatial scale which the consumer perceives the resource. By combining GPS data (some of which has yet to be analyzed) from various herds at the continental scale the spatial scale necessary for ecological restoration might be determined. This continent wide dataset of bison GPS locations can also be leveraged to answer questions of habitat selection, potential competition with other domestic and wild herbivores, etc.
Impacts of habitat fragmentation on wildlife movements
During the conservation movement of the United States of America, the prairies were largely ignored, and instead converted for food production. Indeed, temperate grasslands are the least protected biome world-wide as a result of human alteration and disturbance. This resulted in the large-scale loss and fragmentation of important prairie habitats and the species that rely on them. Fragmented landscapes often lead to increased human-wildlife interactions, such as increased crop depredation and wildlife-vehicle collisions. There are an estimated 1 to 2 million collisions between vehicles and large animals in the United States each year, with wildlife-vehicle collisions now accounting for 1 in every 20 reported motor vehicle collisions. While the impact may not be fatal for humans, these collisions typically are fatal for wildlife. These forms of human-wildlife conflict account for hundreds of millions of dollars of damages to crops and vehicles annually, as well as human injuries and deaths. Here, we seek to provide the necessary scientific understanding for sustainable wildlife and land management by identifying the habitat requirements and movement patterns of wildlife species from multiple trophic levels. This will allow for conservation planning efforts that maximize wildlife habitat and travel corridors while minimizing the costs to local landowners in terms of both the negative impacts of human-wildlife interaction management and the potential costs of creating or restoring wildlife habitat and travel corridors. To do so, we will approach this problem using tools from the fields of wildlife ecology (trail cameras, GPS monitoring, and remote sensing), public health (social surveys), IT (data collection via mobile apps), and business (cost/benefit analysis).
Elk and elk habitat management
Dr. Ranglack is currently finished up a joint project between the US Forest Service, Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, and Montana State University on elk and elk habitat management in Montana. This projected involved GPS collar data from 9 elk herds in southwestern Montana and was broken into two parts. The first focused on habitat selection of cow elk during the summer months in relation to roads and nutrition. The second focused on defining 'security areas' for elk during the archery and rifle hunting seasons. This focused more on roads and forest cover, though nutrition still played an important role during the archery season.
Both parts are currently being revised for publication in peer-reviewed ecology and wildlife management journals.