Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Natural Resources

Major Professor

Lisa I. Muller

Committee Members

Richard W. Gerhold, Bradley F. Miller, Sarah E. Moorey


Two genetically distinct elk populations from Elk Island National Park (EINP) in Alberta, Canada were used for Tennessee elk reintroductions. Previous evaluation of Tennessee elk determined EINP populations persisted with possible spatial segregation and minimal admixture. Pregnancy rates were determined during initial releases; however, no updated evaluation has been conducted. We evaluated genetic variability and relatedness, assessed spatial distribution, determined pregnancy rates of captured adult females, and evaluated the efficacy of non-invasive fecal sampling for detecting pregnancy in Tennessee elk. From February through April 2019, 357 fecal samples were collected non-invasively from 65 areas across 489.62 km2 [kilometers squared] of the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area. In 2019 and 2020, blood, hair, and fecal samples were collected from 29 collared elk (21 females and 8 males). Analysis of 16 microsatellites and a sex marker from fecal samples collected non-invasively and hair from capture genetically identified 101 individuals. Individuals were assigned to EINP North (n=21), EINP South (n=64), or admixture (n=16) with EINP North elk exhibiting high relatedness. From GPS locations, results indicated EINP genetic groups largely exhibited spatial segregation and small annual home range sizes. Using Arbor Assays Progesterone EIA and Progesterone Metabolite kits, we determined fecal progesterone metabolite (FPM) concentrations of captured females and established a FPM concentration reference range to categorize pregnancy status of feces collected non-invasively. Pregnancy rates of captured adults using pregnancy-specific protein B testing were 72.7% and 75% in 2019 and 2020, respectively. From non-invasive fecal collection, I identified 128 female samples and 62 unique females. Progesterone EIA kit FPM concentrations were [mean] =192.84 ±38.63 ng/g [nanogram per gram] (95% CI, 96.48–289.20) for non-pregnant and =536.17 ±74.98 ng/g (95% CI, 375.97–696.36) for pregnant females. Progesterone Metabolite kit FPM concentrations were =188.16 ±43.39 ng/g (95% CI, 76.63–299.69) for non-pregnant and =693.52 ±126.52 ng/g (95% CI, 407.31–979.72) for pregnant females. Females identified from non-invasive collection were categorized as non-pregnant, undetermined, or pregnant. We provided updated information on genetic and reproductive parameters important for population health and determined non-invasive fecal sampling can be used for pregnancy assessment of Tennessee elk.

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