Sage Grouse & Prairie Chickens

Contributed Oral Presentations

Contributed paper sessions will be available on-demand for the duration of the conference, then again at the conclusion of the conference.


Examining Spatio-Temporal Dynamics of Nevada Sage Grouse Lek Counts Using a Marked Point Process
Cheyenne Acevedo; Perry Williams
Wildlife populations fluctuate through time and space. Emerging statistical modeling techniques now permit us to address questions about wildlife population dynamics by leveraging information contained in spatial longitudinal count data. The Greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus), is an indicator species for sagebrush communities, representing sagebrush quality and ecosystem function. Sage grouse conservation has led to long-term, and spatially widespread annual population counts during the breeding season. We used a marked point-process spatio-temporal statistical model to characterize spatio-temporal lek dynamics for the Nevada sage grouse population. We examined spatial and temporal factors driving lek count dynamics to understand colonization and abandonment processes for 1,948 leks across space and through time from 2000 to 2018. We addressed 1) how the overall sage grouse population changed in Nevada through time and 2) how the spatial dynamics of leks in Nevada changed through time to identify the spatial distribution and drivers behind lek colonization or decline. We identified where the population was doing well to understand what local or landscape features promoted a healthy population. We focused on exogenous factors such as vegetation, habitat, fire, and precipitation, and predicted that these variables would increase sage grouse lek attendance. This method produced two spatial surfaces for lek attendance and locations to highlight areas of lek count intensity. Understanding spatio-temporal sage grouse lek dynamics in Nevada can lead to practical conservation efforts to promote healthy sage grouse populations.
Habitat Selection and Survival Consequences for Greater Sage-Grouse during Multiple Reproductive Life Phases
Brianne Brussee; Peter Coates; Shawn O’Neil; Mark Ricca; Shawn Espinosa; David Delehanty
Actionable science for species of conservation concern is enhanced by models that identify environmental factors driving linked resource selection and demographic responses during critical life stages. Accordingly, we evaluated factors influencing these responses for greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) during key reproductive phases (nesting and brood-rearing) across much of the Great Basin, comprising the southwestern extent of the species’ range. We evaluated 786 nests and 356 broods from 19 sites across 2009 – 2018. For each life stage, we fit macrohabitat environmental covariates to selection and survival models while accounting for differences in climatic conditions correlated with ecological productivity. For nesting, we found selection for greater sagebrush cover and height, elevation, and herbaceous cover, while pinyon-juniper cover, transmission lines, and proportion of non-sagebrush shrub were avoided. Importantly, sage-grouse selected for greater herbaceous cover, but annual grass reduced nest survival. For brood rearing, sage-grouse selected areas with greater ecological productivity, greater proportion of shrub cover, and closer to water sources, such as streams and springs. Microhabitat characteristics also represented substantial variation in selection and survival patterns, especially across different environmental gradients. At microscales, vegetative cover immediately surrounding the nest was most important to selection and survival, but functional composition varied between mesic and xeric sites. For example, taller grasses were more important for nests in xeric sites where availability of tall grasses was lower relative to mesic sites. For broods, areas with greater grass and forb composition were selected. We further illustrate how application of this approach facilitates comprehensive multi-scale habitat assessment for reproductive sage-grouse. Our approach can be used to infer the relative probability that a habitat is selected across multiple scales and contributes positively to breeding productivity, while observed mismatches between habitat selection and subsequent survival consequences help identify ecological traps. Preliminary findings are provided for best timely science.
Navigating Jurisdictional Constraints to Achieve Species Conservation: Mapping Greater Sage-Grouse Habitat in Utah
Michel T. Kohl; Simona Picardi; David K. Dahlgren; Shandra N. Frey; Randy T. Larsen; Eric T. Thacker; Brady W. Allred; Dave E. Naugle; Jared Reese; Avery Cook; Terry A. Messmer
The identification and management of critical habitats is the basis for conservation of endangered and threatened species. However, identifying critical habitats for wide-ranging species can be problematic when their distribution encompasses multiple jurisdictions. These conservation challenges often include competing agency directives and incongruent habitat models that limit their application across jurisdictional boundaries. If the directive challenges can be addressed, the incongruent habitat models may still be hindered by large-scale (e.g., state-wide) differences in species conservation threats or habitat quality. We provide a case study regarding the process implemented in Utah that navigated these jurisdictional constraints while modelling seasonal (nesting, summer, winter) habitat of greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus; sage-grouse). In Utah, sage-grouse populations inhabit 11 management units comprised of federal, state, and local jurisdictions. Moreover, sage-grouse are distributed across a large latitudinal gradient that produces significant variation in habitat characteristics. This poses challenges for conservation practitioners when identifying critical habitat or prioritizing management actions across populations. To overcome this, we used Generalized Functional Response Resource Selection Models that incorporated 21 years of sage-grouse nesting data (1526 nests), five years of sage-grouse GPS tracking data (503 individuals, > 485,000 locations), and high resolution (30 x 30 m) remotely sensed annual vegetation measures (Rangeland Analysis Platform) to quantify seasonal habitat use within and across management units and years. Using this approach, we coordinated season-specific habitat management actions that accounted for variation in sage-grouse habitat quality while also accommodating jurisdictional areas, annual changes in vegetation characteristics, and state-wide habitat guidelines. Furthermore, our analytical technique provided the capacity for prioritizing management actions in spatially and temporally dynamic environments; a critical step as conservation funding becomes increasingly limited. Together, this suggests this process may be highly transferable and useful for the regional or state-wide scale management of other wide-ranging species.
Lesser Prairie-Chicken Lek Formation, Lek Persistence, and Female Space Use
Carly Aulicky; David Haukos
Lek breeding species are characterized by differences in paternal care and corresponding difference in habitat use by sex. Male lesser prairie-chickens (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) form leks in areas of short vegetation and females prioritize vegetation structure with cover for nests and broods. Lesser prairie-chicken management relies on lek counts to estimate population size. Conservation strategies assume leks form according to the hotspot hypothesis in areas of female home range overlap. The density of leks on the landscape is dynamic, changing between breeding seasons and even within a breeding season. Short grass suitable for lek formation is also not limiting, so how do males select where to form leks and what determines if a lek persists into subsequent breeding season? We tested the hotspot hypothesis and lek persistence using 53 lek locations across three Kansas field sites and 165 estimated female lesser prairie-chicken home ranges. We examined shifts in female space use from GPS telemetry point locations with an optimized hotspot analysis by study year as a test of the hotspot hypothesis We tested female density, surrounding nesting and brooding habitat, and changes to vegetation at lek sites to determine what factors influence the persistence of a lek from one breeding season to the next. Our results indicate that leks form in locations with high female home concentration consistent with the hotspot hypothesis and that lek persistence is determined by grassland at broad scales, visual obstruction at the lek scale, and female space use.
Assessment of the Effects of Weather on Multiple Reproductive Components of Greater Prairie-Chickens Using a Nine-Year Dataset
David Londe; Dwayne Elmore; Craig Davis; Sam Fuhlendorf; Torre Hovick
The influence of climate on wildlife populations has been well documented. However, much of the current literature investigating the effects of climate change rely on short-term studies. The use of long-term datasets that cover a variety of environmental conditions will be essential to accurately assessing the full impact of changing weather on a species. In this study, we used a nine-year dataset to evaluate the effects of weather on the reproductive performance and behavior of the greater prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus cupido). We considered weather over a range of temporal extents, allowing us to determine the relative importance of short-term weather events, such as daily temperature and precipitation, versus more chronic shifts in weather such as persistent drought on the reproductive performance of greater prairie-chickens. Specifically, we assessed the effects of daily weather variables and drought conditions on daily nest survival, nest incubation start dates, and clutch size. We found that daily nest survival was primarily influenced by conditions experienced during incubation with daily nest success declining in years with wetter than average springs and during extreme precipitation events. Daily nest survival also declined under higher maximum daily temperatures, especially in years with below-average rainfall. Greater prairie-chickens began nesting earlier and had smaller clutch sizes for both initial nests and renests in years with warmer temperatures prior to the nesting season. Additionally, incubation of nests started later in the spring in drought years. These results suggest that increasing variability in weather may exacerbate the effects of habitat loss in many parts of the greater prairie-chicken’s range as we found that extreme weather negatively influenced reproduction. As the climate of the Great Plains is expected to become more variable in the future with increasing frequency of drought and extreme precipitation events, wildlife species that inhabit these landscapes may further be at risk.
Effects of a Megafire on Lesser Prairie-Chickens in the Mixed-Grass Prairie
Nicholas J. Parker; Daniel S. Sullins; David A. Haukos; Kent A. Fricke; Christian A. Hagen
Megafires (wildfires >100,000 acres) have increased worldwide in recent years causing extensive social and economic impact, but their effects on grassland wildlife are difficult to quantify. Grassland-dependent wildlife, including the lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus), can depend on fire to maintain large expanses of herbaceous cover and could benefit from megafires. Alternatively, effects of burning large areas of already fragmented grassland could impose negative demographic consequences. Due to fire suppression and changing land management practices, fires of this size are unprecedented in modern history and lesser prairie-chicken response to such a stochastic event is unknown. In 2017, the largest fire in Kansas history burned 2,521 km2 in Kansas and Oklahoma, encompassing key parts of the lesser prairie-chicken range. We compared data on lesser prairie-chicken demography prior to (2014-2016) and after the fire (2018-2020) to measure potential population-level effects. Male lek attendance decreased 66% in 2018, a further 43% in 2019, but stabilized in 2020. Post-fire adult survival rates remained similar to pre-fire, but nest survival rates decreased. In 2018, only 22% of nests were in burned areas, compared to 73% in 2019, indicating nest habitat may be recovering. Individuals also avoided burned areas and increased selection 31% for Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) fields in 2018, suggesting CRP/cropland landscapes with disjoint fuel can provide refuge during extreme events. While reduced lek counts and reproductive success show the negative influence of megafire on lesser prairie-chickens in the short term, increasing use of burned areas and stabilizing lek counts provide evidence of post-fire recovery.
Assessing the Role of Translocation in Lesser Prairie-Chicken Conservation
Elisabeth C. Teige; Liam A. Berigan; Carly SH Aulicky; David A. Haukos; Kent A. Fricke; Liza G. Rossi; Kraig A. Schultz; Jonathan H. Reitz
The lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) has experienced severe population declines over the last century. The current lesser prairie-chicken range in the southern Great Plains is limited to four ecoregions including Short-Grass Prairie/CRP, Mixed-Grass Prairie, Sand Shinnery Oak Prairie, and Sand Sagebrush Prairie. Although >60% of the current population occurs on Mixed-Grass Prairie and Short-Grass Prairie/CRP, the Sand Sagebrush Prairie of southwestern Kansas and southeastern Colorado historically contained the largest concentration of lesser-prairie chickens with estimates as high as 86,000 birds in the 1970s. However by 2016, populations decreased 98% across the ecoregion, with only 4 leks remaining with ~20 active birds. In an effort to supplement populations within this ecoregion, 411 lesser prairie-chickens (204 males and 207 females) were translocated from 2016-2019, from the Shortgrass/CRP Ecoregion of northwestern Kansas to the Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands in Kansas and Colorado, respectfully. Together, these areas provide ~224,000 ha of Sand Sagebrush Prairie habitat. A total of 115 SAT-PTT transmitters and 279 VHF collars were deployed on translocated lesser prairie-chickens from 2016-2019. As of spring 2020, we have found 18 leks with 115 birds active, and have a current total of 32 successful broods yielding 91 chicks. Overall, translocated birds avoided the National Grassland, especially in Kansas. Survival rates of translocated birds are higher in Kansas however, Colorado released birds do have greater reproductive performance. Although annual survival for translocated birds is low, increasing numbers of leks and birds attending indicate short term translocation success. This project provides the unique opportunity to study the demographics of a translocated population and provide insight into the possible space use differences between non-translocated and translocated lesser prairie-chickens and to ultimately conclude if translocation of lesser prairie-chickens is a successful conservation method for the Sand Sagebrush Prairie Ecoregion.
Translocation Reverses Population Decline of an Imperiled Subpopulation of Greater Sage-Grouse
Mary Meyerpeter; Peter Coates; Brian Prochazka; David Delehanty
Greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) have experienced substantial and ongoing range contraction over the past century. Translocation, the deliberate transfer of animals from one location to another, can be used to reinforce small, declining populations thereby reducing local extirpation and subsequent range contraction. In this study we translocated sage-grouse from a donor population to reinforce a small, declining subpopulation of sage-grouse within a distinct population segment (DPS) located in eastern California. We translocated males, pre-nesting females and females with broods (a novel method). Using a Before-After-Control-Impact study design, we evaluated the degree to which translocation increased lambda (λ), the finite rate of change of the imperiled subpopulation as well as its 5-year extirpation probability. Population estimates and projections were derived from an integrated population model, which unifies data from lek count surveys and telemetry methods. For controls, we used a long-term dataset from multiple regional subpopulations within the DPS. We also evaluate the use of brood translocation, a novel method, to enhance reproductive success of translocated female sage-grouse. Preliminary results demonstrate that 3 years of translocation reversed population declines and substantially reduced near-term extirpation probability for this imperiled subpopulation of sage-grouse. Translocation, and particularly brood translocation, may be an effective way to rescue small sage-grouse populations. Findings are preliminary and provided for best timely science.
Extrinsic and Intrinsic Drivers of Resource Selection by Female Lesser Prairie-Chickens
Bram H F Verheijen; Chris K J Gulick; Christian A. Hagen; John D. Kraft; Jonathan D. Lautenbach; Joseph M. Lautenbach; Reid T. Plumb; Samantha G. Robinson; Daniel S. Sullins; David A. Haukos
United States grasslands have experienced large-scale declines since European settlement, which have led to habitat loss and fragmentation for many wildlife species. Lesser prairie-chickens (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) have been especially affected, as their occupied range and population abundance have declined by ~90%. Informing management strategies for lesser prairie-chickens requires unbiased estimates of resource selection, but management is complicated by large individual variation. Grasslands experience large spatiotemporal variation in precipitation and temperature, with resulting variation in vegetation composition and structure driving resource selection. Contrastingly, resource selection could be mainly driven by intrinsic factors such as hen age or life-history stage. Finally, variation in resource selection could directly affect population dynamics if linked to demographic rates. We tested effects of extrinsic and intrinsic factors on 3rd-order resource selection by female lesser prairie-chickens at 4 sites in Kansas and Colorado, representing 3 of the 4 occupied ecoregions. During 2013-2018, we captured and outfitted females with VHF (n = 39) or GPS transmitters (n = 157), delineated home ranges, and used resource selection functions to test within-home-range selection of land cover types and vegetation characteristics. Overall, lesser prairie-chickens selected grasslands and avoided croplands, forests, and urban areas. Females selected areas with increased grass cover (>55%), decreased amounts of bare ground (<5%), and intermediate vegetation height (1.5-3.5 dm) during the nesting stage, and areas with increased forb cover (>20%) and greater vegetation height (3-5 dm) during the brooding stage. Patterns in resource selection were similar among ecoregions and years, but absolute values depended on composition and structure of local vegetation. Variation in resource selection did not explain nest success or hen survival. Ecoregion- and breeding stage-specific estimates of resource selection by female lesser prairie-chickens will help managers determine the total area and juxtaposition of breeding habitat necessary for current populations to persist.
Effects of Management Strategies and Military Activity on Greater Prairie-Chicken Ecology on Fort Riley Military Reservation
Jacquelyn M. Gehrt; Derek Moon; David A. Haukos
Greater prairie-chickens (Tympanuchus cupido) face large-scale disturbances in the form of habitat loss and conversion of tall- and mixed-grass prairies in which they reside. Even in large tracts of remaining grasslands, these birds may still face disturbances due to land management or other land-use activities. One such area is the Fort Riley Military Reservation in northeastern Kansas, USA; despite being the largest remaining tract of contiguously publicly owned tallgrass prairie (41,000 ha, 29,000 ha used for wildlife management), there are still many landscape- level disturbances that may be affecting this population. These disturbances include military training events and burning (both prescribed and unintentional due to military trainings). We assess greater prairie-chicken space use and habitat use relative to these disturbances. We monitored greater prairie-chickens during the breeding seasons (April-August) of 2019 and 2020 because reproductive success has the largest effect on population growth rate. Space use of greater prairie-chickens was extremely limited throughout the breeding season compared to other studies in Kansas (95% KDE of Fort Riley birds: 223 ha ± 176 vs. 95% KDE found in a study conducted ~ 20 miles away: 575 ± 65 ha). Despite space use varying, habitat use was similar to other studies assessing with regard to burn frequencies. We found birds on Fort Riley Military Reservation to use areas burned ~every 2-4 years nearly 54% of the time while areas burned every 1-2 years 38% of the time during the breeding season. By assessing the influence of military activity and burning regimes on space use and habitat selection by greater-prairie chickens, this project will aid in the development of specific management recommendations for the conservation of greater prairie-chickens on Fort Riley Military Reservation.


Contributed Oral Presentations
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