Anna C. Ortega, Jerod A. Merkle, Hall Sawyer, Kevin L. Monteith, Patrick Lionberger, Miguel Valdez, Matthew J. Kauffman

A test of the frost wave hypothesis in a temperate ungulate

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

AbstractGrowing evidence supports the hypothesis that temperate herbivores surf the green wave of emerging plants during spring migration. Despite the importance of autumn migration, few studies have conceptualized resource tracking of temperate herbivores during this critical season. We adapted the frost wave hypothesis (FWH), which posits that animals pace their autumn migration to reduce exposure to snow but increase acquisition of forage. We tested the FWH in a population of mule deer in Wyoming, USA by tracking the autumn migrations of n = 163 mule deer that moved 15–288 km from summer to winter range. Migrating deer experienced similar amounts of snow but 1.4–2.1 times more residual forage than if they had naïve knowledge of when or how fast to migrate. Importantly, deer balanced exposure to snow and forage in a spatial manner. At the fine scale, deer avoided snow near their mountainous summer ranges and became more risk prone to snow near winter range. Aligning with their higher tolerance of snow and lingering behavior to acquire residual forage, deer increased stopover use by 1 ± 1 day (95% CI) day for every 10% of their migration completed. Our findings support the prediction that mule deer pace their autumn migration with the onset of snow and residual forage, but refine the FWH to include movement behavior en route that is spatially dynamic.

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