Mineral licks: motivational factors for visitation and accompanying disease risk at communal use sites of elk and deer
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Free-ranging cervids acquire most of their essential minerals through forage consumption, though occasionally seek other sources to account for seasonal mineral deficiencies. Mineral sources occur as natural geological deposits (i.e., licks) or as anthropogenic mineral supplements. In both scenarios, these sources commonly serve as focal sites for visitation. We monitored 11 licks in Rocky Mountain National Park, north-central Colorado, using trail cameras to quantify daily visitation indices (DVI) and soil consumption indices (SCI) for Rocky Mountain elk (Cervus elaphus) and mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) during summer 2006 and documented elk, mule deer, and moose (Alces alces) visiting licks. Additionally, soil samples were collected, and mineral concentrations were compared to discern levels that explain rates of visitation. Relationships between response variables; DVI and SCI, and explanatory variables; elevation class, moisture class, period of study, and concentrations of minerals were examined. We found that DVI and SCI were greatest at two wet, low-elevation licks exhibiting relatively high concentrations of manganese and sodium. Because cervids are known to seek Na from soils, we suggest our observed association of Mn with DVI and SCI was a likely consequence of deer and elk seeking supplemental dietary Na. Additionally, highly utilized licks such as these provide an area of concentrated cervid occupation and interaction, thus increasing risk for environmental transmission of infectious pathogens such as chronic wasting disease, which has been shown to be shed in the saliva, urine, and feces of infected cervids.
KeywordsCervus elaphus Chronic wasting disease Elk Geophagy Mineral lick Mule deer Odocoileus hemionus
We thank Terry Terrell and Judy Visty of the United States (US), National Park Service for facilitating research and access to Rocky Mountain National Park. Reviews by T. Atwood and S. Leach strengthened the manuscript. All procedures were approved by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA)-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service-Wildlife Services-National Wildlife Research Center’s (NWRC) Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (QA-1267). All funding was provided by the NWRC. Mention of companies or commercial products does not imply recommendation or endorsement by the USDA over others not mentioned. USDA neither guarantees nor warrants the standard of any product mentioned. Product names are mentioned solely to report factually on available data and to provide specific information. The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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