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Wild Steps in a semi-wild setting? Habitat selection and behavior of European bison reintroduced to an enclosure in an anthropogenic landscape

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Recently, several wild or semi-wild herds of European bison have been reintroduced across Europe. It is essential for future successful bison reintroductions to know how the European bison use different habitats, which environmental parameters drive their habitat selection, and whether their habitat use and behavioural patterns in new reintroduction sites differ from habitats where European bison have been roaming freely for a long time. Here, we address these questions for a 40-ha enclosed site that has been inhabited by semi-free ranging European bison since 2012. The site, Vorup Meadows, is adjacent to the Gudenå river in Denmark and consists of human-modified riparian meadows. During 2013 we monitored the behavioural pattern and spatial use of the 11 bison present and in parallel carried out floristic analyses to assess habitat structure and food quality in the enclosure. We tested habitat use and selection against environmental parameters such as habitat characteristics, plant community traits, topography, and management area (release area vs. meadow area) using linear regression and spatial models. The bison herd had comparable diurnal activity patterns as observed in previous studies on free-roaming bison herds. Topography emerged as the main predictor of the frequency of occurrence in our spatial models, with high-lying drier areas being used more. Bison did not prefer open areas over areas with tree cover when accounting for habitat availability. However, they spent significantly more time in the release area, a former agricultural field with supplementary fodder, than expected from availability compared to the rest of the enclosure, a meadow with tree patches. We wish to increase awareness of possible long-term ethological effects of the release site and the management protocols accomplished here that might reduce the ecological impact by the bison in the target habitat, and thereby compromise or even oppose the conservation goals of the conservation efforts.

OriginalsprogEngelsk
Artikelnummere0198308
TidsskriftPLOS ONE
Vol/bind14
Nummer11
Antal sider22
ISSN1932-6203
DOI
StatusUdgivet - 2019

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