Estimating Economic Carrying Capacity for an Ungulate Guild in Western Canada

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  • Elk Island National Park in western Canada provides an ideal case study for an economic carrying capacity estimate because it supports high density of four species of ungulates (11/km2), lacks large predators, and is enclosed by a 2.1-meter mesh fence. This high density of ungulates has created persistent management challenges by altering vegetation structure and community composition. Using linear programming, we explored optimal allocation of forage resources for bison (Bison bison bison), moose (Alces andersoni), wapiti (Cervus elaphus manitobensis) and deer (Odocoileus virginianus and O. hemionus) to maximize ungulate biomass and numbers, when constrained by use of the major forage classes and minimum viable populations (MVP) of those ungulate species that do not cross the boundary fence (bison and wapiti). Maximum numbers of animals were achieved by a stocking combination dominated by deer and bison, whereas maximum biomass was attained when bison and moose were abundant but deer were absent. Wapiti remained at MVP during all solutions. Optimal solutions consistent with current ungulate densities were associated with 7 to 11% forage removal. This is less than normally assumed for sustainable forage use, and may reflect the need to account for other biotic and abiotic losses to forage in carrying capacity models for which ungulate densities can be constrained by availability of a preferred forage class (e.g., grass) as well as forage quality. This research extends the conventional animal-unit concept to multispecies systems and provides templates based on forage biomass allocation for resource managers facing similar problems of joint stocking in different environments.

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    Article (Published)
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    Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 International
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    • Kuzyk, GW, NL Cool, EW Bork, C Bampfylde, A Franke & RJ Hudson. (2009). Estimating Economic Carrying Capacity for an Ungulate Guild in Western Canada. Open Conservation Biology Journal, 3, 24-35.