Irruptive population dynamics in Yellowstone pronghorn

P. J. White, Jason E. Bruggeman, Robert A. Garrott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Irruptive population dynamics appear to be widespread in large herbivore populations, but there are few empirical examples from long time series with small measurement error and minimal harvests. We analyzed an 89-year time series of counts and known removals for pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) in Yellowstone National Park of the western United States during 1918-2006 using a suite of density-dependent, densityindependent, and irruptive models to determine if the population exhibited irruptive dynamics. Information-theoretic model comparison techniques strongly supported irruptive population dynamics (Leopold model) and density dependence during 1918-1946, with the growth rate slowing after counts exceeded 600 animals. Concerns about sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) degradation led to removals of >1100 pronghorn during 1947-1966, and counts decreased from approximately 700 to 150. The best models for this period (Gompertz, Ricker) suggested that culls replaced intrinsic density-dependent mechanisms. Contrary to expectations, the population did not exhibit enhanced demographic vigor soon after the termination of the harvest program, with counts remaining between 100 and 190 animals during 1967-1981. However, the population irrupted (Caughley model with a one-year lag) to a peak abundance of approximately 600 pronghorn during 1982-1991, with a slowing in growth rate as counts exceeded 500. Numbers crashed to 235 pronghorn during 1992-1995, perhaps because important food resources (e.g., sagebrush) on the winter range were severely diminished by high densities of browsing elk, mule deer, and pronghorn. Pronghorn numbers remained relatively constant during 1996-2006, at a level (196-235) lower than peak abundance, but higher than numbers following the release from culling. The dynamics of this population supported the paradigm that irruption is a fundamental pattern of growth in many populations of large herbivores with high fecundity and delayed density-dependent effects on recruitment when forage and weather conditions become favorable after range expansion or release from harvesting. Incorporating known removals into population models that can describe a wide range of dynamics can greatly improve our interpretation of observed dynamics in intensively managed populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1598-1606
Number of pages9
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 1 2007


  • Antilocapra americana
  • Density dependence
  • Large herbivores
  • Logistic growth
  • Population models
  • Pronghorn
  • Time series
  • Yellowstone National Park


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