Disappearing Elk

The Mystery of the Disappearing Elk and the Purple Flowers

Description: You are the ecologist for the National Elk Refuge, you have multiple job responsibilities but, some of your top priorities are managing the elk herd with natural and supplemental feedings. One of the ways to do this is to ensure there is a balanced healthy ecosystem so the elk have plenty of forage to eat.

With this in mind, during the past couple of years you’ve noticed that the numbers of elk visiting the refuge have declined significantly. These elk also have needed their supplemental feedings earlier in the winter then normal. During that same period of time, there has been a noticeable increase in a purple flower and a decrease in the grasses. Being a sharp ecologist you think the increase of the purple flowers might be related to the decline in elk population. It’s now your job to figure out how.

Task: A little detective work in ecological field

  • Figure out what the purple flowering plant is
  • Describe it’s biology
  • Decide if it needs to be controlled
  • What actions should be taken to save the elk

-Make a PowerPoint presentation of 6-8 slides with your findings and explain your actions.

1. Identify the purple flowering plant.
2. Explain why it is increasing.
3. How might it have gotten on the National Elk Refuge?
4. Figure out if and why it needs to be controlled.
5. What steps would you take as the refuge biologist?


TCWP Weed I.D. Page

  1. http://www.fws.gov/invasives/volunteersTrainingModule/invasives/whatabout.html
  2. http://fcwp.org/GYCC/WeedPages/Spottedknapweed.htm
  3. http://www.co.whatcom.wa.us/publicworks/pdf/weeds/spotted_knapweed2.pdf
  4. http://www.mda.state.mn.us/plants/badplants/knapweed.htm
  5. http://www.mtweed.org/weed_SpottedKnapweed.html
  6. http://www.co.lincoln.wa.us/weedboard/biocontrol/bioknapweed.pdf
  7. http://www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/caer/ce/eek/earth/aliens.htm
  8. http://www.mda.state.mn.us/plants/badplants/leafyspurge.htm
  9. http://www.fsu.edu/~imsp/silent_invaders/new_weeds/main_html/