Habitat structure, climatic factors, and habitat use by European bison (Bison bonasus) in Polish and Belarusian parts of the Białowieża Forest, Poland

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Abstract:

Białowieża Forest is divided into Polish and Belarusian parts that differ in habitat structure and degree of protection. The forest supports two European bison, Bison bonasus (L., 1758), populations that are isolated from each other. We analysed bison habitat use from relocations of 34 radio-collared bison from both populations collected in 1993–2003. The two bison populations differed considerably in habitat use, but home-range sizes were similar. The habitat structure in the Polish part is more advantageous for bison (deciduous forests prevail) than in the Belarusian part; however, open areas form a rich source of forage for ungulates in the Belarusian part, which presumably helped to eliminate the difference between the two parts. In 1977–2003, the annual temperature in this area rose and the total precipitation diminished. As a result, the habitat use by bison changed in both populations when compared with those in earlier studies; use of coniferous forests decreased, while use of deciduous forests and alderwoods increased. Generalized linear models on relationships among climatic factors and habitat use showed that the amount of water accessible in the period up to 4years ago was the main factor affecting the use of various forest types. Habitat preferences differed between adult bulls and groups that included cows, but were similar in both populations irrespective of the differences in habitat composition.

La forêt de Białowieża se divise en sections polonaise et biélorusse qui différent par la structure de l’habitat et le degré de protection. La forêt contient deux populations de bisons d’Europe, Bison bonasus (L., 1758), qui sont isolées l’une de l’autre. Nous avons analysé l’habitat des bisons d’après des signalisations recueillies en 1993–2003 de 34 bisons porteurs de colliers radio appartenant aux deux populations. Les deux populations de bisons diffèrent considérablement dans leur utilisation de l’habitat, mais les tailles de leurs aires vitales sont semblables. La structure de l’habitat dans la section polonaise est plus avantageuse pour les bisons (dominance de la forêt décidue), alors que, dans la section biélorusse, les zones ouvertes forment une riche source de fourrage pour les ongulés, ce qui élimine probablement la différence. Durant les années 1977–2003, la température annuelle de la région a augmenté et les précipitations totales ont diminué. En conséquence, l’utilisation de l’habitat par les deux populations de bisons a changé par rapport aux études antérieures; l’utilisation des forêts de conifères a baissé, alors que celle des forêts décidues et des aunaies s’est accrue. Des modèles linéaires généralisés des relations entre les facteurs climatiques et l’utilisation de l’habitat montrent que, jusqu’il y a 4 ans, la quantité d’eau disponible était le facteur principal à affecter l’utilisation des différents types de forêts. Les préférences d’habitat diffèrent entre les mâles adultes et les groupes qui contiennent des femelles, mais elles sont semblables dans les deux populations, malgré les différences de composition de l’habitat.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2007

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