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Parks Canada Bison Plan

SOME ECOLOGY

In their Territory > In the Modern World

IN THEIR TERRITORY

Bison are better adapted to temperature extremes than most cattle due to the insulating capacity of their coats. Their habitat ranges from the dry, hot desert grassland in the Southern United States and Mexico to cold, mountainous and forested habitat of Northern Canada. Their neck and head sturdiness help them to forage for food in the winter by brushing the snow out of their way. Their adaptation capacity not only through seasons but through hundreds thousand of years favour them in a changing climate.

Bison are also considered a keystone species in their natural habitat and they play an important ecological role where they live. Bison are vegetarian and their grazing activities not only increased nutrient levels in the soil, they also help plant diversity, dispersal of seeds, improve the quality of nesting for many prairies birds and they are great landscape engineer. They create ephemeral pools, which in spring after snow melt or after rainstorms keep standing water in wallows for many days providing important habitat for toads and wetland plant species.

The bison used to share the landscape with other large mammals such as grizzly, wolves, elk, deer, moose, sheep and pronghorn through time and habitat range. Like all grazers, the bison search for quality forage through the year and their summer movements to higher elevation areas reduces vegetation utilization at lower elevations and thereby enhances the availability of vegetation in the lower and warmer plains in the winter (non-growing season).

Bison and mule deer may overlap in their habitat selection in winter, but their diets differ. The same happens with elk and bison. They extensively overlap in their winter range but less in spring and summer. In winter bison favour sedges and elk favour grasses while in summer bison’s diet contain more grasses and less forbs and woody plants than elk.



In the Modern World