Predicting Bison Migration out of Yellowstone National Park Using Bayesian Models

Geremia, C, White, PJ, Wallen, RL, Watson, FGR, Treanor, JJ, et al

Plos One, Vol 6 issue 2

2011

Long distance migrations by ungulate species often surpass the boundaries of preservation areas where conflicts with various publics lead to management actions that can threaten populations. We chose the partially migratory bison (Bison bison) population in Yellowstone National Park as an example of integrating science into management policies to better conserve migratory ungulates. Approximately 60% of these bison have been exposed to bovine brucellosis and thousands of migrants exiting the park boundary have been culled during the past two decades to reduce the risk of disease transmission to cattle. Data were assimilated using models representing competing hypotheses of bison migration during 1990–2009 in a hierarchal Bayesian framework. Migration differed at the scale of herds, but a single unifying logistic model was useful for predicting migrations by both herds. Migration beyond the northern park boundary was affected by herd size, accumulated snow water equivalent, and aboveground dried biomass. Migration beyond the western park boundary was less influenced by these predictors and process model performance suggested an important control on recent migrations was excluded. Simulations of migrations over the next decade suggest that allowing increased numbers of bison beyond park boundaries during severe climate conditions may be the only means of avoiding episodic, large-scale reductions to the Yellowstone bison population in the foreseeable future. This research is an example of how long distance migration dynamics can be incorporated into improved management policies.

Patrick Cross2011