The ecology of the bison in Montana


MISSOULA – We break down the ecology of an emblematic prairie giant in this edition of A Wilder View.

The bison have become an icon of history and of the wilderness in the United States.

Perhaps no other species of fauna was linked to the immense changes that swept through the United States with the arrival of European settlers.

Plant communities are greatly affected by areas where bison herds roam, as the animals constantly graze, horned trees, and roll around in dustbaths.

Tanner Saul / MTN News

Intensive grazing over short periods is helpful for the regeneration and success of plants, and their urine and droppings also increase plant productivity.

These dust baths help relieve agitation on the skin, build up mud against flies biting their skin, and loosen old fur.

Bison exhibit interesting communication behaviors. For example, the tail is one of their best ways to transfer information.


Tanner Saul / MTN News

As they graze, their tails calmly swing back and forth. In aggressive or reproductive meetings, the tail is raised.

The more they lift their tails, the greater their stress or aggressive intention.

Mature bulls usually hold their tails in the air when fighting while a submissive bison will lower its tail and wag it side to side.

bison herd

Tanner Saul / MTN News

Dominance in females coincides with age, but in males neither age nor weight appears to be a deciding factor.

Individual personality seems to be a major aspect in determining rank. Older bison tend to be less tolerant and more unpredictable.

You can see herds of wild bison in the Bison Range and Yellowstone National Park.

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