Pronghorn Migration Study
The Big Picture
Pronghorn are one of the only remaining large animals endemic to the Great Plains. Running at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour, they are also North America’s fastest land mammals. One herd has been shown to undertake the continent’s second longest land migration (of up to 500 miles round-trip). Because they cover so much ground and therefore require large areas of intact prairie, pronghorn are a strong indicator species, which means that their reaction to influences like human activity can help scientists assess how other species are affected by those influences. Furthermore, studying pronghorn migration on the Great Plains contributes to a body of research about long-distance migrations, one of the most endangered wildlife phenomena worldwide.
Project to Date
Collaborative Pronghorn Migration Study in Northeastern Montana
The annual pronghorn migration from northern Montana into southern Alberta and Saskatchewan is being studied near American Prairie Reserve in a trans-boundary, multi-year effort by World Wildlife Fund; Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks; University of Calgary; Bureau of Land Management and the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment. Specifically, the study focuses on the ecological impact of human activities such as oil and gas development, roadway building, windmill development and other activities that lead to fragmentation of the pronghorn’s prairie habitat.
The team of scientists studies pronghorn by capturing them on their winter range on lands around American Prairie Reserve in order to fit them with GPS (global positioning system) radio collars. Satellites allow each animal’s location to be documented every four hours and stored in its radio collar. After 52 weeks, the radio collar drops off, and scientists retrieve the collar’s data to review daily movements, annual migrations and the types of obstacles the animals faced along the way.
Winter Habitat on American Prairie Reserve
During severe winters, such as those that have affected northeastern Montana in the last two years, pronghorn have moved south from their winter range along the Milk River to winter ranges on and near American Prairie Reserve. This migration demonstrates the great value of the Reserve as a critical winter habitat for pronghorn and emphasizes the importance of the work of American Prairie Reserve in conserving a large landscape of native prairie.
Information downloaded from pronghorn GPS collars will help scientists understand the cumulative impact of human development on the prairie landscape and its wildlife. It will also help create a conservation model for the region, which will influence future land use planning decisions to minimize human impact on this migratory species.