How do ungulates learn to migrate? A century-long case study with Yellowstone bison
March 2021 - May 2025
- Meg and Bert Raynes Wildlife Fund
- National Park Service
The story of how bison re-discovered their lost migrations over a 100-year period is one of the few examples worldwide of ungulates learning to migrate. This recovery has much to teach us about managing modern migrations, but the bison migration story has never been consolidated in one place. Although numerous studies have evaluated where bison move to their summer and winter ranges, a comprehensive picture of the history of their migration recovery has yet to be created. The proposed project will aim to reconstruct how generations of Yellowstone bison established the migration routes they now use to travel seasonally in and out of the park. The question of how ungulates learn to migrate is important for modern conservation, and this study will deepen our understanding of what is possible for animals recolonizing a landscape. This project is done in collaboration with researchers from Yellowstone National Park and the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Wyoming. We will analyze the impact that certain active management techniques, such as hazing, had on bison movement at different times in their history. Other anecdotes from more recent bison experts, such as Rick Wallen and collaborator Chris Geremia, will also be documented and assessed as they pertain to bison migration. Building a timeline of these events, we will search for which techniques had lasting effects on bison movements, and which did not. In addition to historical research, we will review modern GPS collar data and contemporary movements to understand what ranges and movements were possible for bison in the past.