Do Bighorn and Deer Teach Each Other?

Is Ungulate Migration Culturally Transmitted?

Although the answer to this question might seem to be an obvious “yes”, many wildlife management practices assume the opposite. This paper studies bighorn and moose migrations, but its conclusions apply to many other wild species.


For example many wildlife managers believe they can shoot (“manage”) wildlife from the same helicopters being used to count animals, without changing animal behavior over time. In the Sierra Diablos, bighorn are terrified of helicopters, as any observer can see. This is learned behavior. It limits ability to get accurate counts because animal populations have taught each other to be afraid of, and hide from helicopters.


Much worse, helicopters used for any purpose  now place severe stress on ewes, does, lambs and fawns.

NOTE: this excerpt and PDF are via Science Magazine’s September 7, 2018 Edition, Volume 361 Issue 6406.

Is Ungulate Migration Culturally Transmitted?

Ungulate migrations are assumed to stem from learning and cultural transmission of information regarding seasonal distribution of forage, but this hypothesis has not been tested empirically. We compared the migratory propensities of bighorn sheep and moose translocated into novel habitats with those of historical populations that had persisted for hundreds of years. Whereas individuals from historical populations were largely migratory, translocated individuals initially were not. After multiple decades, however, translocated populations gained knowledge about surfing green waves of forage (tracking plant phenology) and increased their propensity to migrate. Our findings indicate that learning and cultural transmission are the primary mechanisms by which ungulate migrations evolve. Loss of migration will therefore expunge generations of knowledge about the locations of high-quality forage and likely suppress population abundance.

(PDF available here)

Ranching, wildlife management, finance, oil & gas, real estate development and management.

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