Temporal variability in winter travel patterns of yellowstone bison: The effects of road grooming

Jason E. Bruggeman, Robert A. Garrott, Daniel D. Bjornlie, P. J. White, Fred G.R. Watson, John Borkowski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


The influence of winter recreation on wildlife in Yellowstone National Park (YNP), Wyoming and Montana, USA, is a controversial issue. In particular, the effects of road grooming, done to facilitate snowmobile and snowcoach travel, on bison (Bison bison) ecology are under debate. We collected data during winters, from 1997 to 2005, on bison road use, off-road travel, and activity budgets to quantify temporal trends in the amount of bison road and off-road travel and to identify the ecological factors affecting bison movements and use of the groomed road system in the Madison-Gibbon-Firehole (MGF) area of YNP. Using model comparison techniques, we found bison travel patterns to be influenced by multiple, interacting effects. Road travel was negatively correlated with road grooming, and we found no evidence that bison preferentially used groomed roads during winter. Snow water equivalent, bison density, and the springtime melt period were positively correlated with both bison road and off-road travel. From behavioral scans on 68 791 bison, we found that travel is only a small percentage (11%) of all bison activity, with foraging comprising 67% of observations. Also, only 7% of traveling bison and 30% of foraging bison were displacing snow, and we suggest foraging, rather than traveling, is likely the major energetic cost to bison in winter. Bison utilize their own trail network, connecting foraging areas using stream corridors, geothermal pathways, and self-groomed travel routes. Our results indicate that temporal patterns in bison road travel are a manifestation of general travel behavior and that groomed roads in the MGF do not appear to be a major factor influencing bison ecology and spatial redistribution. We suggest that the changes in bison spatial dynamics during the past three decades have likely been the result of the natural phenomenon of density-dependent range expansion, rather than having been caused by the anthropogenic influence of road grooming.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1539-1554
Number of pages16
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 1 2006


  • Akaike information criterion (AIC)
  • Bison
  • Bison bison
  • Movements
  • Range expansion
  • Recreation
  • Road grooming, snowmobile
  • Travel
  • Winter
  • Yellowstone National Park, USA


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