University of Montana Associate Professor Mark Hebblewhite recently received a $435,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to continue a 15-year study of migratory elk in Alberta, Canada. Since 2001 Hebblewhite and co-principal investigator Evelyn Merrill of the University of Alberta have collared and tracked more than 500 elk in one of the longest-running field research projects on the species.

“This long-term study has given us unparalleled insights into the lives of these long-lived animals,” Hebblewhite said. “Elk can live up to 20 years or more in the wild, and often our studies are too short term to really figure out what makes elk tick, why they migrate, why their populations change and how we as humans affect them. But it’s also impossible to study every elk population everywhere forever, which is why this funding will continue to ensure our long-term project provides valuable information to manage elk everywhere.”

By monitoring this large herd over their lifespans – through reproduction, migration and survival – this long-term study provides clues on why elk migrate, how their migrations change, the role of predators like wolves and grizzly bears on elk populations, and the effects of fire, logging, climate change and management actions, such as hunting, on the herd.