NewsA Wilder View


A Wilder View: The ecology of bison in Montana

bison dust
bison herd
female bison
Posted at 9:57 AM, Oct 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-20 11:58:06-04

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

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

Perhaps no other species of wildlife were linked to the immense changes that swept across the US at the arrival of European settlers.

Plant communities are significantly affected by the areas in which herds of bison roam as the animals constantly graze, horn trees, and roll in dust baths.

bison dust

The heavy grazing over short periods is helpful to plant regeneration and success and their urine and scat also increase plant productivity.

Those dust baths help ease skin agitation, build up mud against flies biting their skin, and knocks old fur loose.

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


As they graze their tail sways back and forth calmly. During aggressive or reproductive meetings, the tail is raised.

The higher they raise their tail the greater their stress or aggressive intent.

Mature bulls generally hold their tails up when fighting while a submissive bison will lower their tails and wag it side to side.

bison herd

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

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

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