Habitat prioritization across large landscapes, multiple seasons, and novel areas: An example using Greater Sage-Grouse in Wyoming
Fedy, B.C., K.E. Doherty, C.L. Aldridge, M. O’Donnell, J.L. Beck, B. Bedrosian, D. Gummer, M.J. Holloran, G.D. Johnson, N.W. Kaczor, C.P. Kirol, C.A. Mandich, D. Marshall, G. McKee, C. Olson, A.C. Pratt, C.C. Swanson, and B.L. Walker
Animal habitat selection is an important and expansive area of research in ecology. In particular, the study of habitat selection is critical in habitat prioritization efforts for species of conservation concern. Landscape planning for species is happening at ever-increasing extents because of the appreciation for the role of landscape-scale patterns in species persistence coupled to improved datasets for species and habitats, and the expanding and intensifying footprint of human land uses on the landscape. We present a large-scale collaborative effort to develop habitat selection models across large landscapes and multiple seasons for prioritizing habitat for a species of conservation concern. Greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus, hereafter sage-grouse) occur in western semiarid landscapes in North America. Range-wide population declines of this species have been documented, and it is currently considered as “warranted but precluded” from listing under the United States Endangered Species Act. Wyoming is predicted to remain a stronghold for sage-grouse populations and contains approximately 37% of remaining birds. We compiled location data from 14 unique radiotelemetry studies (data collected 1994–2010) and habitat data from high-quality, biologically relevant, geographic information system (GIS) layers across Wyoming. We developed habitat selection models for greater sage-grouse across Wyoming for 3 distinct life stages: 1) nesting, 2) summer, and 3) winter. We developed patch and landscape models across 4 extents, producing statewide and regional (southwest, central, northeast) models for Wyoming. Habitat selection varied among regions and seasons, yet preferred habitat attributes generally matched the extensive literature on sage-grouse seasonal habitat requirements. Across seasons and regions, birds preferred areas with greater percentage sagebrush cover and avoided paved roads, agriculture, and forested areas. Birds consistently preferred areas with higher precipitation in the summer and avoided rugged terrain in the winter. Selection for sagebrush cover varied regionally with stronger selection in the Northeast region, likely because of limited availability, whereas avoidance of paved roads was fairly consistent across regions. We chose resource selection function (RSF) thresholds for each model set (seasonal regional combination) that delineated important seasonal habitats for sage-grouse. Each model set showed good validation and discriminatory capabilities within study-site boundaries. We applied the nesting-season models to a novel area not included in model development. The percentage of independent nest locations that fell directly within identified important habitat was not overly impressive in the novel area (49%); however, including a 500-m buffer around important habitat captured 98% of independent nest locations within the novel area. We also used leks and associated peak male counts as a proxy for nesting habitat outside of the study sites used to develop themodels.A1.5-kmbuffer around the important nesting habitat boundaries included 77% of males counted at leks in Wyoming outside of the study sites. Data were not available to quantitatively test the performance of the summer and winter models outside our study sites. The collection of models presented here represents large-scale resource-management planning tools that are a significant advancement to previous tools in terms of spatial and temporal resolution.
Where eagles nest, the wind also blows: consolidating habitat and energy needs [Science Feature]
Energy development is rapidly escalating in resource-rich Wyoming, and with it the risks posed to raptor populations. These risks are of increasing concern to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is responsible for protecting the persistence of protected species, including raptors. In support of a Federal mandate to protect trust species and the wind energy industry’s need to find suitable sites on which to build wind farms, scientists at the USGS Fort Collins Science Center (FORT) and their partners are conducting research to help reduce impacts to raptor species from wind energy operations. Potential impacts include collision with the turbine blades and habitat disruption and disturbance from construction and operations. This feature describes a science-based tool—a quantitative predictive model—being developed and tested by FORT scientists to potentially avoid or reduce such impacts. This tool will provide industry and resource managers with the biological basis for decisions related to sustainably siting wind turbines in a way that also conserves important habitats for nesting golden eagles. Because of the availability of comprehensive data on nesting sites, golden eagles in Wyoming are the prototype species (and location) for the first phase of this investigation.
Estimating length of avian incubation and nesting stages in afrotropical forest birds from interval-censored nest records
To assess the potential impacts of West Nile virus (WNV) on a wild population of free-ranging raptors, we investigated the prevalence and effects of WNV on American Kestrels (Falco sparverius) breeding along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains in northern Colorado. We monitored kestrel nesting activity at 131 nest boxes from March to August 2004. Of 81 nest attempts, we obtained samples from 111 adults and 250 young. We did not detect WNV in sera; however, 97.3% (108/111) of adults tested positive for WNV neutralizing antibodies, which possibly represented passive transfer of maternal antibodies. Clutch size, hatching, and fledging success in our study did not differ from that previously reported for this species, suggesting that previous WNV exposure in kestrels did not have an effect on reproductive parameters measured in the breeding populations we studied in 2004.
Nesting and reproductive activities of Greater Sage-Grouse in a declining northern fringe population