Sunday, February 14, 2016

Mapping Habitats For Mountain Goats

Mountain goats are endemic to the Rocky Mountains. Being very hardy, adaptable animals, it is possible for them to have population booms, thus causing habitat degradation and outcompeting other species. One of the species that is most at risk is the bighorn sheep. In 2002, the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory at Colorado State University decided to map their habitat so they could predict population boom problems, make decisions on managing populations, and save the sheep.

The researchers studied Mt. Evans. They counted goat populations over a period of six years on the mountain. Then they calculated the amount of terrain they used by creating a regression model and finding the area of the mountain slopes in ArcInfo. They created more equations to determine the percentage of land that was used by goats, and finally they used ArcMap to create a map of the goat sightings over the seasons, taking slope contours into account.

The researchers found that escape terrain, or areas where they could easily run away from predators, were the places on Mt. Evans that the goats favored the most. They also found that mountain goats used less space in the winter, with only 20% of viable habitat being used. Goats dispersed the most in the summer, spreading out over 23% of viable habitat. Ranges for summer and winter overlapped. This is valuable because it shows how the goats move across Mt. Evans, and the fact that they can safely be dispersed so they don't outcompete the bighorn sheep.

Gross, J. E., Kneeland, M. C., Reed, D. F., & Reich, R. M. (2002). GIS-based habitat models for mountain goats. Journal of Mammalogy83(1), 218-228.

I have acted with honesty and integrity in producing this work and am unaware of anyone who has not.


  1. By using methods of mapping similar to this, I wonder if wildlife conservation efforts could designate specific locations (or essentially build these locations) suitable to allow endangered species to thrive in.

  2. Were there factors that explained that seasonal dispersal, such as food abundance or mating seasons? If not, determining what is creating this pattern may help inform management in the future.

  3. I wonder if the mountain goats used less land in the winter because of snow making some areas inaccessible? A way to continue this study would be to compare snow depths - however, considering the steepness of the slopes, some areas might be too difficult to access to measure. Ease-of-access may have also skewed the results; mountain goats are easier to see against particular backdrops, and more likely to be seen at places visible from human-accessible trails.

  4. Further research could be done to see what other factors explain this dispersal. If that could be done then possibly wildlife conservation efforts could help