Seeking to get a better grasp on how elk behave on the same landscape as predators, Canadian researchers are getting their hands “dirty” by gathering and examining the scat of bears, mountain lions, wolves and coyotes.
The research, partially funded by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, is part of an ongoing study dating back to the mid-1990s focusing on the Ya Ha Tinda elk herd located just east of Banff National Park in southwest Alberta.
Gathering predator scat is a new technique that helps distinguish key components of predation such as where elk may encounter predators and where they are killed. The method can be used to sample broad areas over a relatively short time frame to get a snapshot of spatial predation risk. In other words, it basically highlights the complexity of predator-prey dynamics where there are different types of predators.
Here is how the numbers break down. Researchers analyzed the contents of 476 scat samples including 199 wolf, 130 bear, 114 coyote and 33 mountain lion. They found evidence of elk in mountain lions (46% of scats), wolves (38%) and coyotes (36%), but far less in bears (19%).
The findings showed the risk of predation differed by location and habitat features, however overall predation risk was highest within the Ya Ha Tinda herd where elk are residents.
(Photo source: Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation)