Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Natural Resource Management

First Advisor

Jonathan A. Jenks


We conducted a 2-year (2012–2013) study of survival and cause–specific mortality using individually marked adult cow and neonate elk (Cervus elaphus) occupying the southwestern region of the Black Hills. We used known-fate analysis in Program MARK for survival analysis of adult cows and calves. We estimated survival and cause-specific mortality of 49 adult female elk over the 2 years of the study. Annual adult cow survival was 0.85 (95% CI = 0.72–0.87). We documented 12 mortalities with harvest (58.3%) and predation (16.6%) accounting for the majority of known mortalities. We captured and fit 71 neonates < 10 days of age with expandable Very High Frequency (VHF) radiocollars during summer 2012 (n = 37) and 2013 (n = 34). Annual (12 month) survival of elk calves was 0.75 (95% CI = 0.61–0.84) while summer (20 weeks; 15 May–25 September) survival was 0.79 (95% CI = 0.68–0.88). Predation accounted for 87.5% of mortalities; remaining mortalities were from starvation (6.3%) and unknown (6. 3%) causes. We used Global Positioning System (GPS) collars to collect 167,707 locations to determine home range, movement ecology, and macroscale resource selection of 48 adult cow elk. We documented elk using a variety of migration strategies (obligate migrator, resident, conditional migrator, disperser); the majority of the population (58%) was migratory. Spring migration distance travelled ranged from 2.45 km – 74.44 km (n = 42); fall migration distances ranged from 6.41km – 153.95 km (n = 46). We used 99% Brownian Bridge Movement Models to create seasonal and overall home ranges of adult cow elk. Mean overall home range size for conditional migrators was 249.28 km2 (SE = 28.60, n = 7, range = 233.75), for obligate migrant elk it was 227.18 km2 (SE = 13.94, n = 29, range = 346.83), and for resident elk it was 175.65 km2 (SE = 22.75, n = 11, range = 216.04). We used discrete choice models to determine resource selection at the macro-habitat scale of collared adult elk using ArcMap 10.1 data. Adult cow elk selected for open grassland/herbaceous areas and early successional forest areas close to forested edges at higher elevations. Our study showed that elk populations have the ability to thrive within an ecosystem with healthy predator populations.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Rocky Mountain elk -- Ecology -- Black Hills (S.D. and Wyo.)
Elk populations -- Black Hills (S.D. and Wyo.)


Includes bibliographical references



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University


Copyright 2015 Benjamin D. Simpson