Decadal heat and drought drive body size of North American bison (Bison bison) along the Great Plains. Academic Article uri icon


  • Large grazers are visible and valuable indicators of the effects of projected changes in temperature and drought on grasslands. The grasslands of the Great Plains have supported the greatest number of bison (Bison bison; Linnaeus, 1758) since prehistoric times. We tested the hypothesis that body mass (BM, kg) and asymptotic body mass (ABM, kg) of Bison decline with rising temperature and increasing drought over both temporal and spatial scales along the Great Plains. Temporally, we modeled the relationship of annual measures of BM and height (H, m) of 5,781 Bison at Wind Cave National Park (WICA) from 1966 to 2015. We used Gompertz equations of BM against age to estimate ABM in decadal cohorts; both females and males decreased from the 1960s to the 2010s. Male ABM was variable but consistently larger (699 vs. 441kg) than female ABM. We used local mean decadal temperature (MDT) and local mean decadal Palmer Drought Severity Index (dPDSI) to model the effects of climate on ABM. Drought decreased ABM temporally (-16kg/local dPDSI) at WICA. Spatially, we used photogrammetry to measure body height (HE ) of 773 Bison to estimate BME in 19 herds from Saskatchewan to Texas, including WICA. Drought also decreased ABM spatially (-16kg/local dPDSI) along the Great Plains. Temperature decreased ABM both temporally at WICA (-115kg/C local MDT) and spatially (-1kg/C local MDT) along the Great Plains. Our data indicate that temperature and drought drive Bison ABM presumably by affecting seasonal mass gain. Bison body size is likely to decline over the next five decades throughout the Great Plains due to projected increases in temperatures and both the frequency and intensity of drought.

published proceedings

  • Ecol Evol

altmetric score

  • 13.18

author list (cited authors)

  • Martin, J. M., & Barboza, P. S.

citation count

  • 10

complete list of authors

  • Martin, Jeff M||Barboza, Perry S