Covariates affecting spatial variability in bison travel behavior in Yellowstone National Park

Jason E. Bruggeman, Robert A. Garrott, P. J. White, Fred G.R. Watson, Rick Wallen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Understanding mechanisms influencing the movement paths of animals is essential for comprehending behavior and accurately predicting use of travel corridors. In Yellowstone National Park (USA), the effects of roads and winter road grooming on bison (Bison bison) travel routes and spatial dynamics have been debated for more than a decade. However, no rigorous studies have been conducted on bison spatial movement patterns. We collected 121 380 locations from 14 female bison with GPS collars in central Yellowstone to examine how topography, habitat type, roads, and elevation affected the probability of bison travel year-round. We also conducted daily winter bison road use surveys (2003-2005) to quantify how topography and habitat type influenced spatial variability in the amount of bison road travel. Using model comparison techniques, we found the probability of bison travel and spatial distribution of travel locations were affected by multiple topographic and habitat type attributes including slope, landscape roughness, habitat type, elevation, and distances to streams, foraging areas, forested habitats, and roads. Streams were the most influential natural landscape feature affecting bison travel, and results suggest the bison travel network throughout central Yellowstone is spatially defined largely by the presence of streams that connect foraging areas. Also, the probability of bison travel was higher in regions of variable topography that constrain movements, such as in canyons. Pronounced travel corridors existed both in close association with roads and distant from any roads, and results indicate that roads may facilitate bison travel in certain areas. However, our findings suggest that many road segments used as travel corridors are overlaid upon natural travel pathways because road segments receiving high amounts of bison travel had similar landscape features as natural travel corridors. We suggest that most spatial patterns in bison road travel are a manifestation of general spatial travel trends. Our research offers novel insights into bison spatial dynamics and provides conceptual and analytical frameworks for examining movement patterns of other species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1411-1423
Number of pages13
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 1 2007


  • Akaike Information Criterion (AIC)
  • Bison
  • Bison bison
  • Global Positioning System (GPS)
  • Resource selection
  • Road grooming
  • Roads and travel corridors
  • Spatial dynamics
  • Ungulate movements
  • Yellowstone National Park


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