Identifying how habitat use is influenced by environmental heterogeneity at different scales is central to understanding ungulate population dynamics on complex landscapes. We used resource selection functions (RSF) to study summer habitat use in a reintroduced and expanding elk (Cervus elaphus nelsoni) population in the Chequamegon National Forest, Wisconsin, USA. Factors were examined that influenced where elk established home ranges and that influenced habitat use within established home ranges. We also determined grain sizes over which elk responded to environmental heterogeneity and the number of categories of habitat selection from low to high that the elk distinguished. At a large spatial extent, elk home-range establishment was largely explained by the spatial distribution of wolf (Canis lupus) territories. Forage abundance was also influential but was relatively more important at a small spatial extent when elk moved within established home ranges. Areas near roads were avoided when establishing a home-range, but areas near roads were selected for use within the established home range. Elk distinguished among 4 different categories of habitat selection when establishing and moving within home ranges. Spatial and temporal cross validation demonstrated that to improve the predictive strength of habitat models in areas of low inter-annual variability in the environment, it is better to follow more individuals across diverse environmental conditions than to follow the same individuals over a longer time period. Last, our results show that the effects of environmental variables on habitat use were scale-dependent and reemphasize the necessity of analyzing habitat use at multiple scales that are fit to address specific research questions.
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Vol. 69 • No. 1