Modeling Translocated and Resident Dynamic Pronghorn Habitat Selection in a Landscape With Oil and Gas

Erin O’Connell, Justin French, Carlos E. Gonzalez, Louis A. Harveson, and Shawn Gray (TPWD)

Across the West Texas landscape, established pronghorn populations have gradually disappeared. As energy development across West Texas increases, it becomes more important to protect pronghorn and understand their behavioral processes. Texas Parks Wildlife Department, Borderlands Research Institute, and private landowners have partnered together to reestablish and understand pronghorn populations.

One way to successfully establish pronghorn populations is by understanding their habitat selection–yet habitat is multifaceted due to the complexity of animal behavior. Translocated pronghorn are initially unfamiliar with the novel environment, and behavioral plasticity could likely affect their habitat selection.

In 2019, partners translocated 110 pronghorn from Pampa, Texas, to Rocker b Ranch in West Texas, a site that features oil and gas development. Of the translocated pronghorn 44 individuals were equipped with Global Positioning System (GPS) collars. Additionally, 20 resident pronghorn on Rocker b Ranch were captured and collared in January 2020. With these GPS data points, we are examining how translocated and resident pronghorn select for habitat at Rocker b Ranch.

This research aims to capture the differences in how resident and translocated pronghorn individuals select for habitat, on a ranch with existing oil and gas development. To understand the correlation between pronghorn movement and habitat selection, we will use an Integrated Step Selection Function. This will help us explicitly estimate where a pronghorn moved based on actual steps and where a pronghorn could move based on resource selection parameters.

We will using the GPS locations to model which steps the pronghorn took and predict additional steps it could have taken. Using habitat layers from remote sensing data, we can see what type of landscape, vegetation, and other resources pronghorn are selecting for. By doing this, we can determine which resources are most important to the pronghorn when choosing habitat on Rocker b Ranch.

This analysis will allow us to model and predict where pronghorn are likely to disperse post-translocation and how they will select for habitat depending on resident status. With these results, we can predict pronghorn space-use before translocation events and allow for a dynamic habitat map that updates in real time. This will ultimately provide the best habitat areas on the Rocker b Ranch and lead to better management of pronghorn restoration.

Funding sources: The Meadows Foundation, Respect Big Bend coalition.