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Concept: Elk


The attire of the Tyrolean Iceman, a 5,300-year-old natural mummy from the Ötzal Italian Alps, provides a surviving example of ancient manufacturing technologies. Research into his garments has however, been limited by ambiguity surrounding their source species. Here we present a targeted enrichment and sequencing of full mitochondrial genomes sampled from his clothes and quiver, which elucidates the species of production for nine fragments. Results indicate that the majority of the samples originate from domestic ungulate species (cattle, sheep and goat), whose recovered haplogroups are now at high frequency in today’s domestic populations. Intriguingly, the hat and quiver samples were produced from wild species, brown bear and roe deer respectively. Combined, these results suggest that Copper Age populations made considered choices of clothing material from both the wild and domestic populations available to them. Moreover, these results show the potential for the recovery of complete mitochondrial genomes from degraded prehistoric artefacts.

Concepts: DNA, Deer, Elk, Clothing, Uniform, Ötzi the Iceman, Clothing material


The effect of anthropogenic noise on terrestrial wildlife is a relatively new area of study with broad ranging management implications. Noise has been identified as a disturbance that has the potential to induce behavioral responses in animals similar to those associated with predation risk. This study investigated potential impacts of a variety of human activities and their associated noise on the behavior of elk (Cervus elaphus) and pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) along a transportation corridor in Grand Teton National Park.

Concepts: Pronghorn, Deer, Human behavior, Elk, Yellowstone National Park, Megafauna of North America, Teton County, Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park


Schmallenberg virus was detected in cattle and sheep in northwestern Europe in 2011. To determine whether wild ruminants are also susceptible, we measured antibody seroprevalence in cervids (roe deer and red deer) in Belgium in 2010 and 2011. Findings indicated rapid spread among these deer since virus emergence ≈250 km away.

Concepts: Deer, Elk, Ruminant, Antler, Red Deer, Roe Deer


In animal behaviour, there is a dichotomy between innate behaviours (e.g., temperament or personality traits) versus those behaviours shaped by learning. Innate personality traits are supposedly less evident in animals when confounded by learning acquired with experience through time. Learning might play a key role in the development and adoption of successful anti-predator strategies, and the related adaptation has the potential to make animals that are more experienced less vulnerable to predation. We carried out a study in a system involving a large herbivorous mammal, female elk, Cervus elaphus, and their primary predator, i.e., human hunters. Using fine-scale satellite telemetry relocations, we tested whether differences in behaviour depending on age were due solely to selection pressure imposed by human hunters, meaning that females that were more cautious were more likely to survive and become older. Or whether learning also was involved, meaning that females adjusted their behaviour as they aged. Our results indicated that both human selection and learning contributed to the adoption of more cautious behavioural strategies in older females. Whereas human selection of behavioural traits has been shown in our previous research, we here provide evidence of additive learning processes being responsible for shaping the behaviour of individuals in this population. Female elk are indeed almost invulnerable to human hunters when older than 9-10 y.o., confirming that experience contributes to their survival. Female elk monitored in our study showed individually changing behaviours and clear adaptation as they aged, such as reduced movement rates (decreased likelihood of encountering human hunters), and increased use of secure areas (forest and steeper terrain), especially when close to roads. We also found that elk adjusted behaviours depending on the type of threat (bow and arrow vs. rifle hunters). This fine-tuning by elk to avoid hunters, rather than just becoming more cautious during the hunting season, highlights the behavioural plasticity of this species. Selection on behavioural traits and/or behavioural shifts via learning are an important but often-ignored consequence of human exploitation of wild animals. Such information is a critical component of the effects of human exploitation of wildlife populations with implications for improving their management and conservation.

Concepts: Psychology, Natural selection, Behavior, Motivation, Human behavior, Hunting, Elk, Behavioural sciences


Courtship behaviours, frequent among modern insects, have left extremely rare fossil traces. None are known previously for fossil odonatans. Fossil traces of such behaviours are better known among the vertebrates, e.g. the hypertelic antlers of the Pleistocene giant deer Megaloceros giganteus. Here we describe spectacular extremely expanded, pod-like tibiae in males of a platycnemidid damselfly from mid-Cretaceous Burmese amber. Such structures in modern damselflies, help to fend off other suitors as well as attract mating females, increasing the chances of successful mating. Modern Platycnemidinae and Chlorocyphidae convergently acquired similar but less developed structures. The new findings provide suggestive evidence of damselfly courtship behaviour as far back as the mid-Cretaceous. These data show an unexpected morphological disparity in dancing damselfly leg structure, and shed new light on mechanisms of sexual selection involving intra- and intersex reproductive competition during the Cretaceous.

Concepts: Reproduction, Deer, Fertility, Elk, Mating, Moose, Irish Elk, Megaloceros


Human disturbance can influence wildlife behaviour, which can have implications for wildlife populations. For example, wildlife may be more vigilant near human disturbance, resulting in decreased forage intake and reduced reproductive success. We measured the effects of human activities compared to predator and other environmental factors on the behaviour of elk (Cervus elaphus Linnaeus 1758) in a human-dominated landscape in Alberta, Canada.

Concepts: Human, Ecology, Natural environment, Chimpanzee, Human behavior, Elk, Apex predator, Wildlife


Among agents of selection that shape phenotypic traits in animals, humans can cause more rapid changes than many natural factors. Studies have focused on human selection of morphological traits, but little is known about human selection of behavioural traits. By monitoring elk (Cervus elaphus) with satellite telemetry, we tested whether individuals harvested by hunters adopted less favourable behaviours than elk that survived the hunting season. Among 45 2-year-old males, harvested elk showed bolder behaviour, including higher movement rate and increased use of open areas, compared with surviving elk that showed less conspicuous behaviour. Personality clearly drove this pattern, given that inter-individual differences in movement rate were present before the onset of the hunting season. Elk that were harvested further increased their movement rate when the probability of encountering hunters was high (close to roads, flatter terrain, during the weekend), while elk that survived decreased movements and showed avoidance of open areas. Among 77 females (2-19 y.o.), personality traits were less evident and likely confounded by learning because females decreased their movement rate with increasing age. As with males, hunters typically harvested females with bold behavioural traits. Among less-experienced elk (2-9 y.o.), females that moved faster were harvested, while elk that moved slower and avoided open areas survived. Interestingly, movement rate decreased as age increased in those females that survived, but not in those that were eventually harvested. The latter clearly showed lower plasticity and adaptability to the local environment. All females older than 9 y.o. moved more slowly, avoided open areas and survived. Selection on behavioural traits is an important but often-ignored consequence of human exploitation of wild animals. Human hunting could evoke exploitation-induced evolutionary change, which, in turn, might oppose adaptive responses to natural and sexual selection.

Concepts: Psychology, Human, Natural selection, Deer, Behavior, Human behavior, Hunting, Elk


Chronic wasting disease (CWD) affects cervids and is the only known prion disease readily transmitted among free-ranging wild animal populations in nature. The increasing spread and prevalence of CWD among cervid populations threaten the survival of deer and elk herds in North America, and potentially beyond. This review focuses on prion ecology, specifically that of CWD, and the current understanding of the role that the environment may play in disease propagation. We recount the discovery of CWD, discuss the role of the environment in indirect CWD transmission, and consider potentially relevant environmental reservoirs and vectors. We conclude by discussing how understanding the environmental persistence of CWD lends insight into transmission dynamics and potential management and mitigation strategies.

Concepts: Deer, Natural environment, Prion, Elk, Chronic wasting disease, Transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, Prions, Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies


Tracking and preventing the spillover of disease from wildlife to livestock can be difficult when rare outbreaks occur across large landscapes. In these cases, broad scale ecological studies could help identify risk factors and patterns of risk to inform management and reduce incidence of disease. Between 2002 and 2014, 21 livestock herds in the Greater Yellowstone Area (GYA) were affected by brucellosis, a bacterial disease caused by Brucella abortus, while no affected herds were detected between 1990 and 2001. Using a Bayesian analysis, we examined several ecological covariates that may be associated with affected livestock herds across the region. We showed that livestock risk has been increasing over time and expanding outward from the historical nexus of brucellosis in wild elk on Wyoming’s feeding grounds where elk are supplementally fed during the winter. Although elk were the presumed source of cattle infections, occurrences of affected livestock herds were only weakly associated with the density of seropositive elk across the GYA. However, the shift in livestock risk did coincide with recent increases in brucellosis seroprevalence in unfed elk populations. As increasing brucellosis in unfed elk likely stemmed from high levels of the disease in fed elk, disease-related costs of feeding elk have probably been incurred across the entire GYA, rather than solely around the feeding grounds. Our results suggest that focused disease mitigation in areas where seroprevalence in unfed elk is high could reduce the spillover of brucellosis to livestock. We also highlight the need to better understand the epidemiology of spillover events with detailed histories of disease testing, calving, and movement of infected livestock. Finally, we recommend using case-control studies to investigate local factors important to livestock risk.

Concepts: Epidemiology, Infectious disease, Infection, Cattle, Brucellosis, Elk, Brucella, Yellowstone National Park


After centuries of range contraction, many megafauna species are recolonizing parts of Europe. One example is the red deer (Cervus elaphus), which was able to expand its range and is now found in half the areas it inhabited in the beginning of the 19th century. Herbivores are important ecosystem engineers, influencing e.g. vegetation. Knowledge on their habitat selection and their influence on ecosystems might be crucial for future landscape management, especially for hybrid and novel ecosystems emerging in post-industrial landscapes. In this study, red deer habitat selection was studied in a former brown-coal mining area in Denmark. Here, natural settings were severely changed during the mining activity and its current landscape is in large parts managed by hunters as suitable deer habitat. We assessed red deer habitat preferences through feces presence and camera traps combined with land cover data from vegetation sampling, remote sensing and official geographic data. Red deer occurrence was negatively associated with human disturbance and positively associated with forage availability, tree cover and mean terrain height. Apparently, red deer are capable of recolonizing former industrial landscapes quite well if key conditions such as forage abundance and cover are appropriate. In the absence of carnivores, human disturbance, such as a hunting regime is a main reason why deer avoid certain areas. The resulting spatial heterogeneity red deer showed in their habitat use of the study area might be a tool to preserve mosaic landscapes of forest and open habitats and thus promote biodiversity in abandoned post-industrial landscapes.

Concepts: Deer, Ecosystem, Elk, Landscape ecology, Remote sensing, Red Deer, Ecological succession