Habitat Ecology & Management IV

Contributed Oral

Micro-Habitat Selection of Bachman’s Sparrows in Managed Pine Forests in Eastern Mississippi
Holly Todaro, Kristine Evans

Bachman’s sparrows (Peucaea aestivalis) are closely connected with open pine forests as disturbance regimes (e.g., fire and windthrow) reduce canopy cover and promote regeneration of native herbaceous groundcover suitable for nesting, foraging, and concealment from predators. Early successional characteristics suitable for Bachman’s sparrows (2-5 years post fire) are ephemeral in nature, raising questions about how vegetation structural characteristics influence microhabitat selection. We sought to identify third-order habitat selection (resource use) of breeding and post-breeding Bachman’s sparrows within home ranges of 40 individuals across two years (2020-2021). We captured and color-banded 20 individuals each year within five separately managed pine habitat units at Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Mississippi. Habitat units reflected various stages of management including pre- and post-thin, and pre- and post-prescribed fire.  We resighted each individual weekly (May-August) of each year. We calculated autocorrelated kernel density estimated home ranges for each individual to identify a geographic extent for used and available locations for resource selection function models. We conducted vegetation structure sampling at used and available locations for each individual each year. We found Bachman’s sparrows select areas with greater pine basal area, with more available perching options (i.e., fallen trees), and a greater percentage of bare ground amidst native herbaceous groundcover. They also generally seem to prefer areas with low vegetation density and a low percentage of leaf litter. Bachman’s sparrows may be selecting areas with a greater percentage of herbaceous ground cover and bare ground for predator avoidance and increased foraging and nesting opportunities, while selecting areas with a greater number of perching options to attract mates and for territory defense. A better understanding of resource use by Bachman’s sparrows may be helpful in guiding conservation and management efforts for this declining open pine forest bird species.

Using Conservation Planning Software to Optimize Conifer Treatment in Sage-Grouse Habitat Within the Great Basin
Cali Roth, Peter Coates, Mark Ricca, Brianne Brussee

The expansion and infill of pinyon (Pinus monophyla) and juniper (Juniperus osteosperma, J. occidentalis; hereafter conifer) woodlands threatens the imperiled sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) ecosystems of the Great Basin by degrading habitat for sagebrush obligates like the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus). Increased conifer cover reduces sage-grouse habitat use and sage-grouse that use these impacted areas have relatively higher mortality rates. Thus, conifer-impacted areas that remain dominated by sagebrush may act as ecological traps, as studies found negative impacts to sage-grouse occupying habitat with as little as 2.5% conifer cover. Therefore, managers require tractable, science-based tools to optimize the ecological and economic effectiveness of proposed efforts to remove conifers and restore sage-grouse habitats. Using a multi-stage modeling approach, we extended and improved a spatially-explicit conservation planning tool that evaluates areas targeted for conifer removal by predicting effectiveness of treatment relative to sage-grouse habitat suitability. Specifically, our conservation planning tool: 1) simulates conifer removal within user-defined treatment polygons using a high resolution (1-m2) conifer map developed from object-based image analysis; 2) predicts recovery success by quantifying spatial variation in understory dynamics like sagebrush community type, dominance, and annual grass invasion using maps of resilience (i.e. ability to recover from disturbance) and resistance to invasion derived from soil moisture and temperature data; and 3) predicts response surfaces derived from models of sage-grouse selection, use, and survival to calculate improvements in post-treatment habitat suitability. The tool is fully automated within a web-based application and provides a user-friendly interface. The outputs include pre- and post-treatment seasonal habitat suitability surfaces for sage-grouse and ranks proposed treatment sites by cost-effectiveness. This framework can be expanded to include other disturbances (e.g., wildfire) and active restoration scenarios (e.g., seeding and transplanting). Findings are preliminary and provided for timely best science. 

Mapped Predictions Indicate Where and How Dry Forest Management Could Benefit Birds on the Colorado Front Range
Quresh Latif, Jeffery Cannon, Eric Chabot, Rob Sparks

Human land use and climate change have increased forest density and wildfire risk in dry conifer forests of western North America, threatening various ecosystem services including habitat for wildlife. Government policy supports active management to restore historical structure and ecological function. Managers need to discern where and how restoration efforts will most improve wildlife habitat while also assessing tradeoffs with other ecological benefits. We predicted avian responses to simulated treatments representing alternative scenarios to inform forest management planning along the Colorado Front Range. We used data from the Integrated Monitoring in Bird Conservation Regions program to inform a hierarchical multi-species occupancy model relating species occupancy and richness with canopy cover at two spatial scales. We then simulated changes in canopy cover (remotely sensed in 2018) under three alternative scenarios, 1) a “fuels reduction” scenario representing landscape-wide 30% reduction in canopy cover, 2) a “restoration” scenario representing more nuanced treatments targeting historical conditions, and 3) a reference, no-change scenario. Model predictions showed areas of potential gains and losses for both species occupancy and richness at two (1km2 and 250m2) spatial scales. Under both fuels reduction and restoration scenarios, we projected greater gains than losses for species richness. Surprisingly, despite restoration more explicitly targeting ecologically relevant historical conditions, fuels reduction benefited bird species richness over a greater spatial extent than restoration across spatial scales and forest types (i.e., lower and upper montane). These benefits reflected generally positive species associations with moderate canopy cover favored more consistently under the fuels reduction scenario. In practice, contemporary forest management likely lies somewhere between the fuels reduction and restoration scenarios represented here. Thus, our maps could inform where and how to focus management to support avian diversity. Additionally, combining these maps with those of other ecosystem services could support structured decision making for prioritizing forest management.

Indigenous Knowledge of the Habitat Use and Behaviour of Three Ice-Associated Seals in Alaskan Waters
Rowenna Gryba, Henry Huntington, Andrew Von Duyke, Billy Adams, Brower Frantz, Justin Gatten, Qaiyaan Harcharek, Hugh Olemaun, Robert Sarren, Joseph Skin, Greg Henry, Marie Auger-Méthé

Information on species habitat use and behaviour typically comes from ‘western science’ sources such as satellite telemetry studies, which are frequently used for species management and conservation. Indigenous Knowledge (IK), although considered valuable, is not often included in species management or when identifying important or critical habitat. IK includes a wealth of ecological information that can only increase the success of species conservation by increasing our understanding of wildlife and its habitat. As climate changes, potentially impacting access to subsistence species by Indigenous hunters, the need to engage Indigenous communities and include IK to increase the success of conservation and management efforts is paramount. We conducted semi-directed interviews with hunters in Utqiaġvik, Alaska to better understand habitat use and the potential vulnerability to climate change of three locally important seal species: bearded (ugruk in Iñupiaq, Erignathus barbatus), spotted (qasigiaq, Phoca largha), and ringed seals (natchiq, Pusa hispida). Results suggest ringed seals are associated with higher ice concentrations in winter than bearded seals, while both are associated with lower concentrations through summer and fall. Changes in sea ice retreat in spring may impact ringed seal habitat use because they are more likely to haul out on ice in spring then the other two species. Foraging behaviour indicates all three species have foraging hotspots, that will be used over several days by multiple individuals of the same species. The study also highlights the importance of inland water bodies and nearshore habitat, habitat less frequently identified as important in telemetry studies. IK has year-round, population level information on habitat use and behaviour that can expand on existing telemetry studies, providing information that had yet to be identified, and will increase our ability to effectively manage and conserve species in changing environments.

Multi-Scale Effects of Wind-Energy Development on Pronghorn Migration
Aaron Johnston, Megan Milligan, Jeffrey Beck, Katie Taylor, L. Embere Hall, Lee Knox, Teal Cufaude, Cody Wallace, Geneva Chong, Matthew Kauffman

Migration is a critical behavioral strategy necessary for both population persistence and ecosystem functioning, but migration routes have been increasingly disrupted by anthropogenic activities, including energy development. Wind energy is the world’s fastest growing source of electricity and represents an important alternative to hydrocarbon extraction to meet increasing energy demands, but its effects on migratory species beyond birds and bats are not well understood. We evaluated the effects of wind-energy development on pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) migration, including both behavior and habitat selection, to assess potential effects on connectivity and other functional benefits such as stopovers. We monitored GPS-collared female pronghorn from 2010–2012 and 2018–2020 in the Shirley Basin of south-central Wyoming, USA, an area with multiple wind-energy facilities in various stages of development and operation, and collected 286 migration sequences from 117 individuals, including 121 spring migrations, 123 fall migrations, and 42 facultative winter migrations. While connectivity was not lost and pronghorn continued to migrate through wind-energy facilities, pronghorn made important behavioral adjustments relative to turbines during migration. These included avoiding turbines when selecting stopover sites (P(|β| > 0) = 1.00 in spring and 0.97 in winter), selecting areas farther from turbines at a small scale (P(|β| > 0) = 0.95 in spring and 0.97 in winter), and reducing fidelity to migration routes relative to wind turbines under construction (β = 0.04 ± 0.02). Even though connectivity appeared to be maintained, the behavioral adjustments pronghorn made relative to wind turbines could reduce the functional benefits, such as foraging success or the availability of specific routes, of their migration over the long-term.

Bird and Bat Mortality at Wind Energy Projects in Latin America: A Summary and Review
M. Sofía Agudelo, Todd Mabee, Rosa Palmer, Ryan Anderson

Most post-construction fatality monitoring (PCFM) studies to date have focused on North America and Europe, and this information has been used to assess the impacts of large-scale wind energy on birds and bats. A comprehensive review of wind-wildlife fatality information is still lacking for Latin America; however, given the current installed capacity and the projected increase of wind energy production across this region, it is important to fill in the knowledge gap on impacts to wildlife. To provide a current summary of known impacts to birds and bats in Latin America and to identify gaps on this information, we compiled, reviewed, and synthesized fatality information at wind energy projects in the region. Our literature search resulted in 10 references relevant to the scope of this review, six of which provided number of fatalities by species and the type of PCFM search being conducted, meeting our criteria for inclusion in fatality summaries. Passerines composed the majority of bird fatalities, with no Threatened bird species reported. Molossids composed the majority of bat fatalities, with one Threatened bat species reported. Our review of all studies and focused assessment of only those studies with fatality summaries indicated differences in the amount of information and level of detail related to bird and bat fatalities at wind energy projects in Latin America. Due to the taxon-specific nature of collision risk with wind turbines for birds and bats, it is difficult to make a general impact assessment of wind energy development on birds and bats in Latin America, especially given the limited information available. However, this summary can be used as a starting point to inform conservation efforts aiming at avoiding, minimizing, and mitigating impacts of wind energy development on birds and bats and future, standardized results would enhance our ability to do so.

Evaluating Habitat Suitability for Lesser Prairie-Chicken Reintroductions in the Mixed-Grass Prairie Ecoregion
Morgan Solomon, Lance McNew

Populations of lesser prairie-chickens (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) in the mixed-grass prairie ecoregion of the southern Great Plains are projected to go extinct in the next 100 years unless targeted conservation efforts are implemented to increase the size and connectivity of subpopulations through either translocation or habitat restoration. As lesser prairie-chickens are generally a residential species and thus vulnerable to environmental and demographic stochasticity, identifying potential suitable habitat and potential connective corridors to facilitate movement between subpopulations is crucial for lesser prairie-chicken persistence. Our objectives were to 1) develop and validate a spatially explicit habitat suitability model for areas currently occupied by lesser prairie-chickens in the mixed-grass prairie ecoregion, 2) identify areas of unoccupied habitat potentially suitable for lesser prairie-chicken reintroductions, and 3) identify potential corridors that connect current subpopulations of lesser prairie-chickens to unoccupied suitable habitat. We developed habitat suitability models using resource selection functions and Random Forest classification trees to compare landscape-level habitat conditions within 5 km of 273 lek locations (used) and 5,460 random points (available). Habitat conditions were measured in GIS and included both biotic and abiotic characteristics known to affect lesser prairie-chicken habitat use and survival. We then extrapolated our habitat suitability model to the historical range of lesser prairie-chickens to identify contiguous patches of suitable habitat for reintroductions. We used a least-cost path analysis to identify potential corridors connecting potentially suitable habitat to current subpopulations. We will present results on how well each model performed and identify potential areas for targeted habitat restoration efforts and translocation of birds. Our habitat suitability models should assist future reintroduction and habitat restoration plans by identifying habitat conditions that predict the presence of lesser prairie-chicken leks in the mixed-grass prairie ecoregion.

Contributed Oral
Location: Virtual Date: November 5, 2021 Time: 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm