Roosevelt Elk Response to a Newly Available Forage Patch
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According to optimal foraging theory, herbivores will use a new foraging patch intensely to become familiar with a new resource. To better understand how herbivores incorporate new habitat into their home range, I examined use by a Roosevelt elk (Cervus elaphus roosevelti) herd in Redwoods National and State Parks, California, that was recently given access to a nearby, new foraging patch, the cattle pasture. Cattle and predators, both of which can negatively affect elk spatial patterns, also used the cattle pasture. My study objectives were to examine monthly elk use in the cattle pasture, assess cattle and predator influence on herd use of the pasture, analyze summer and winter movement patterns to assess if forage biomass was more limited in one season, and determine if the herd was using the cattle pasture intensely to become familiar with the resources. I placed six infrared, motion sensitive cameras throughout the cattle pasture from August, 2016, to November, 2017. I followed the herd from dawn to dusk, recorded elk activity, movement (step length), and forage biomass in January, 2017 and 2018. Herd movement was also recorded in July, 2017. I found avoidance between elk and cattle and elk and predators at short temporal and small spatial scales in the cattle pasture. Step lengths were similar between summer and winter months. The herd used the cattle pasture more in January, 2018, than in January, 2017. My finding were inconsistent with optimal foraging theory.