Lagueux, Kerry M. 2002. Elk Use of the Edge Habitat in Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota. M.S. Thesis. Western Washington University. 80 p.
National Park policy mandates that parks such as Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota, a ponderosa pine-mixed grass prairie ecotone, be managed to allow for ecological processes, such as flood, fire, and predation, to occur. Consequently, the park managers must make decisions regarding ungulate population levels that should be supported with limited human intervention while maintaining the ecological health of the landscape. Identification of key habitat components for elk within Wind Cave National Park can provide a better understanding of elk's response to its environment, which can lead to the park implementing the mandated ecological-process management. This research investigated whether or not elk preferentially used the suitable cover-forage edge and certain edge complexities.
This study employed the use of telemetry and vegetation data to assess elk distances to the suitable cover-forage edge and affinity towards certain edge complexities. Using Geographic Information Systems (GIS), the suitable cover-forage edge was delineated from the perimeter of all the tree vegetation communities that were at least 40 percent canopy cover and had areas greater than 15,129 m2. Additionally, edge complexity was calculated by FRAGSTATS, a landscape analysis program, and recorded in fractal dimension at three analysis windows sizes (100, 500, and 1000 meters). Through spatial overlays radio-collared elk locations were assigned an associated distance to the closest suitable cover-forage edge and fractal dimension at the three analysis window sizes. To assess elk preference toward the suitable-cover forage edge and certain edge complexities, the radio-collared elk locations were analyzed against four sets of randomly distributed points using t-tests and descriptive statistics.
Radio-collared elk locations exhibited significantly different patterns than four sets of randomly distributed points for: all radio-collared elk locations, only those radio-collared elk locations outside of suitable cover, seasonal differences, and sex. Additionally, the radio-collared elk locations showed significantly different patterns than did the four sets of randomly distributed points at certain edge complexities. Consequently, the presence of the suitable cover-forage edge and its complexity may play important ecological roles for elk in this relatively small, fully enclosed park.