Bison

Summary 3

Bison are large, even-toed ungulates in the genus Bison within the subfamily Bovinae.

Functional adaptation 4

Sustainable use of lands: grazing animals
 

Grazing animals sync their foraging cycles to match plant growth cycles. 

       
  "Dave Pratt, the president of Ranch Management Consultants, believes that U.S. ranchers can boost profits and sustainability in one fell swoop--by taking direction from nature. Pratt suggests using cattle as 'four-legged combines,' allowing them to harvest their own feed. Livestock could additionally be used to control weeds and naturally fertilize the soil. Pratt recommends choosing animals that fit the environment, and matching reproductive cycles to forage cycles. He advises ranchers to fence livestock away from riparian or sensitive areas, and use timed-grazing to avoid overgrazing. He points out that improved health of range resources means improved health of livestock--hence increased profit and sustainability." (Courtesy of the Biomimicry Guild)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.

Known prey organisms 5

Bison (bison) preys on:
Bouteloua gracilis
Sphaeralcea coccinea
Psoralidium tenuiflorum
Aristida purpurea
Carex
Sporobolus cryptandrus
Pascopyrum smithii
Vulpia octoflora
Ratibida columnifera
Buchloe dactyloides

Based on studies in:
USA: California, Cabrillo Point (Grassland)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.

Behavior 6

Wallowing is a common behavior of bison. A bison wallow is a shallow depression in the soil, either wet or dry. Bison roll in these depressions, covering themselves with mud or dust. Possible explanations suggested for wallowing behavior include grooming behavior associated with moulting, male-male interaction (typically rutting behavior), social behavior for group cohesion, play behavior, relief from skin irritation due to biting insects, reduction of ectoparasite load (ticks and lice), and thermoregulation. In the process of wallowing, bison may become infected by the fatal disease anthrax, which may occur naturally in the soil.

Bison temperament is often unpredictable. They usually appear peaceful, unconcerned, even lazy, yet they may attack anything, often without warning or apparent reason. They can move at speeds up to 35 mph (56 km/h) and cover long distances at a lumbering gallop.

Their most obvious weapons are the horns borne by both males and females, but their massive heads can be used as battering rams, effectively using the momentum produced by 2,000 pounds (900 kg) moving at 30 mph (50 km/h). The hind legs can also be used to kill or maim with devastating effect. At the time bison ran wild, they were rated second only to the Alaska brown bear as a potential killer, more dangerous than the grizzly bear. In the words of early naturalists, they were dangerous, savage animals that feared no other animal and in prime condition could best any foe (except for wolves and brown bears).

The rutting, or mating, season lasts from June through September, with peak activity in July and August. At this time, the older bulls rejoin the herd, and fights often take place between bulls. The herd exhibits much restlessness during breeding season. The animals are belligerent, unpredictable, and most dangerous.

Description 6

The American bison and the European bison (wisent) are the largest terrestrial animals in North America and Europe. Bison are good swimmers and can cross rivers over half a mile (800 meters) wide. They are nomadic grazers and travel in herds. The bulls leave the herds of females at two or three years of age, and join a male herd, which are generally smaller than female herds. Mature bulls rarely travel alone. Towards the end of the summer, for the reproductive season, the sexes necessarily commingle. American bison are known for living in the Great Plains. Both species were hunted close to extinction during the 19th and 20th centuries, but have since rebounded. The American plains bison is no longer listed as endangered, but the wood bison is on the endangered species list in Canada.

Although superficially similar, physical and behavioural differences exist between the American and European bison. The American species has 15 ribs, while the European bison has 14. The American bison has four lumbar vertebrae, while the European has five. (The difference in this case is that what would be the first lumbar vertebra in wisent has ribs attached to it in American bison and is thus counted as the 15th thoracic vertebra, compared to 14 thoracic vertebrae in wisent.) Adult American bison are less slim in build and have shorter legs. American bison tend to graze more, and browse less than their European relatives. Their anatomies reflect this behavioural difference; the American bison's head hangs lower than the European's. The body of the American bison is typically hairier, though its tail has less hair than that of the European bison. The horns of the European bison point through the plane of their faces, making them more adept at fighting through the interlocking of horns in the same manner as domestic cattle, unlike the American bison, which favours butting. American bison are more easily tamed than their European cousins, and breed with domestic cattle more readily.

Diet 6

Bison are herbivores and eat simple foods. The bison's main foodstuff is grass, though they will eat any available low-lying shrubbery, as well as sedges. In the winter, bison forage for grass under the snow. If little grass is available, they will eat the twigs of shrubs. Bison are notably better browsers than cattle, since cattle are more obligate grazers, though wood bison have also been described as "obligate grazers". Wisent tend to browse on shrubs and low-hanging trees more often than do the American bison, which prefer grass to shrubbery and trees.

Habitat 6

American bison live in river valleys, and on prairies and plains. Typical habitat is open or semiopen grasslands, as well as sagebrush, semiarid lands, and scrublands. Some lightly wooded areas are also known historically to have supported bison. They also graze in hilly or mountainous areas where the slopes are not steep. Though not particularly known as high-altitude animals, bison in the Yellowstone Park bison herd are frequently found at elevations above 8,000 feet and the Henry Mountains bison herd is found on the plains around the Henry Mountains, Utah, as well as in mountain valleys of the Henry Mountains to an altitude of 10,000 feet.

European bison tend to live in lightly wooded to fully wooded areas and areas with increased shrubs and bushes, though they can also live on grasslands and plains.

Throughout most of their historical range, free-ranging bison are not tolerated by landowners or state governments. Herds on private land must be fenced in. In the U.S. state of Montana, free-ranging bison on public land may be shot, citing concerns of spreading disease and damage to public property. Legislation surrounding the bison continues to be proposed and vetoed by the governor of Montana, and remains an issue of contention between Native American tribes and the American government.

Human impact 6

The extinction of four species of bison (B. antiquus, B. latifrons, B. occidentalis, and B. priscus) is linked to natural selection. Humans were almost exclusively accountable for the near-extinction of the American bison in the 1800s. At the beginning of the century, tens of millions of bison roamed North America. Humans slaughtered an estimated 50 million bison, generally for their meat or hides. This practice of overhunting the bison reduced their population to hundreds. Attempts to revive the American bison, however, have been highly successful. Farming of bison has increased their population to nearly 150,000. The American bison is, therefore, no longer considered an endangered species.

Infections and illness 6

For the American bison, the main cause of illness is malignant catarrhal fever, though brucellosis is a serious concern in the Yellowstone Park bison herd. Bison in the Antelope Island bison herd are regularly inoculated against brucellosis, parasites, Clostridium infection, infectious bovine rhinotracheitis, and bovine vibriosis.

The major concerns for illness in European bison are foot-and-mouth disease and balanoposthitis, which affects the male sex organs; a number of parasitic diseases have also been cited as threats. The inbreeding of the species caused by the small population plays a role in a number of genetic defects and immunity to diseases, which in turn poses greater risks to the population.

Name 6

The term "buffalo" is sometimes considered to be a misnomer for this animal, as it is only distantly related to either of the two "true buffalo", the Asian water buffalo and the African buffalo. However, "bison" is a Greek word meaning ox-like animal, while "buffalo" originated with the French fur trappers who called these massive beasts bœufs, meaning ox or bullock—so both names, "bison" and "buffalo", have a similar meaning. Though "bison" might be considered more scientifically correct, as a result of standard usage, "buffalo" is also considered correct and is listed in many dictionaries as an acceptable name for American buffalo or bison. In reference to this animal, the term "buffalo" dates to 1635 in North American usage when the term was first recorded for the American mammal. It thus has a much longer history than "bison", which was first recorded in 1774.

Predators 6

Due to their size, bison have few predators. Five notable exceptions are the grey wolf, human, brown bear, coyote, and grizzly bear. The grey wolf generally takes down a bison while in a pack, but cases of a single wolf killing bison have been reported. Brown bear also prey on bison calves, often by driving off the pack and consuming the wolves' kill. Historically and prehistorically, lions, tigers, Smilodon, and cave hyenas had posed threats to bison.

Restrictions 6

Throughout most of their historical range, free-ranging bison are not tolerated by landowners or state governments. Herds on private land must be fenced in. In the U.S. state of Montana, free-ranging bison on public land may be shot, citing concerns of spreading disease and damage to public property. Legislation surrounding the bison continues to be proposed and vetoed by the governor of Montana, and remains an issue of contention between Native American tribes and the American government.

Summary 6

Bison or buffalo are large, even-toed ungulates in the genus Bison within the subfamily Bovinae.

Sources and Credits

  1. (c) Kim A. Cabrera, all rights reserved, uploaded by Kim Cabrera, www.bear-tracker.com
  2. (c) Kim A. Cabrera, all rights reserved, uploaded by Kim Cabrera, www.bear-tracker.com
  3. Adapted by Kim Cabrera from a work by (c) Wikipedia, some rights reserved (CC BY-SA), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bison
  4. (c) The Biomimicry Institute, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC), http://eol.org/data_objects/16885126
  5. (c) SPIRE project, some rights reserved (CC BY), http://eol.org/data_objects/10517401
  6. (c) Wikipedia, some rights reserved (CC BY-SA), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bison

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