Pronghorn Spatial Ecology in Nebraska

Pronghorn capture from helicopter

Pronghorn Spatial Ecology in Nebraska

Graduate Student

Collaborators

Funding Source(s)

radio collar icon

73

Active Radio Collars

target icon

6

Hunter Harvests

marked icon

37

Total Mortalities

Overall Project Goal:

This study aims to understand pronghorn movement and resource selection, identify migration corridors and critical ranges, and evaluate spatiotemporal distributions and survival of adult pronghorn. By doing so, we hope to better inform management decisions and implement strategies that cooperatively work to conserve pronghorn while protecting the assets of Nebraska’s ranchers and landowners.


Description:

Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) populations have fluctuated drastically since the early 1900s due to hunting and shifts in land use resulting from westward expansion across the United States. Historically, populations were estimated at around 35 million individuals. The species was entirely extirpated from some of their historic range, but scattered individuals and state-led reintroductions allowed Nebraska’s pronghorn to recover and today approximately 8000 individuals can be found roaming from the state’s western border to the Sandhills, the eastern most edge of the species’ current range. While state biologists conduct yearly aerial surveys to count pronghorn and inform management plans, there is much contest from agricultural producers and landowners concerned that pronghorn are a main contributor to crop depredation, the spread of unwanted plant species, and fence damage. With 92% of Nebraska land being used for agricultural production, it is important to understand how pronghorn navigate this ever-changing landscape.

In February 2021, our team worked with a helicopter crew to humanely capture 80 adult pronghorn within 3 of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s hunting management units in western Nebraska. Each individual had a hair and tissue sample collected, was fitted with a GPS radio-collar, and then released. The collar transmits a precise location of the individual every few hours. These fine-scale data points will allow us to closely monitor daily movement and survival. The collars will remain on the pronghorn for a year, after which they are programmed to automatically drop off and will be collected from the field.

The hair and tissue samples will be analyzed in our lab to further investigate habitat connectivity (the degree of ease or difficulty for an animal to move between distinct patches of habitat). This analysis will help us to understand the genetic make-up of the population and can indicate whether or not human-made structures (i.e. highways and fences) are acting as barriers to movement.

Videos: