Hierarchical Foraging Ecology of Yellowstone Bison and Development of Remote Sensing Techniques for Management of Bison and Other Herbivores Across the Intermountain West

Scientific Disciplines
Biological Sciences - Terrestrial
Montana State University
Yellowstone national park
wildlife management
Remote sensing
hierarchical levels
forage utilization
intermountain west
foraging ecology
Volume 18, No. 1-4

Hierarchical foraging ecology of yellowstone 
Bison and development of remote sensing 
Techniques for management of bison and other 
Herbivores across the intermountain west
Tom Olenicki *, Ecology Department, Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana 59715 1
Lynn Irby, Ecology Department (retired), Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana 59715
To help address the controversy concerning movement of bison outside Yellowstone 
National Park and identify potential areas for bison relocation, we determined seasonal 
foraging habitat selection by bison at 4 hierarchical levels, the dominant hierarchical level 
of selection by Yellowstone bison, inter-annual consistency of use of grazing locations, and 
developed remote-sensing techniques for determining spatio-temporal estimates of herbaceous 
vegetation availability and forage utilization at a landscape scale. Without accounting for 
differences in sward biomass among vegetation types, selection of vegetation types was 
inconsistent among hierarchical levels. However, development and use of a biomass index 
accounted for differences in offtake rate among vegetation types that resulted in consistent 
selection across hierarchical levels for upland vegetation types over mesic lowland types. 
Monitoring of known feeding sites over successive years further indicated preference of 
upland vegetation types. Results suggest the feeding site level as the dominant level of 
selection and that Yellowstone bison exhibit behavior expected of energy maximizers in both 
the short- and long-term. Remote sensing techniques providing spatially-explicit estimates 
of standing crop of herbaceous vegetation were developed at 4 locations across diverse 
habitat in MT and Yellowstone Park, WY. Estimates of forage utilization were developed 
for the Yellowstone Park location. Results of this project increase our understanding of the 
spatial and temporal dynamics of bison foraging ecology both inside and outside Yellowstone 

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National Park and offer remote-sensing techniques relevant to the management of all grazing 
herbivores throughout the intermountain west.