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Linking conservation actions to demography: grass height explains variation in greater sage-grouse nest survival
- Doherty, Kevin E., Naugle, David E., Tack, Jason D., Walker, Brett L., Graham, Jon M., Beck, Jeffrey L.
- Wildlife biology 2014 v.20 no.6 pp. 320-325
- Centrocercus urophasianus, birds, demography, drought, grasses, hatching, landscapes, models, nesting sites, nests, population growth, rivers, spring, watersheds, Montana, Wyoming
- Conservation success often hinges on our ability to link demography with implementable management actions to influence population growth (λ). Nest success is demonstrated to be important to λ in greater sage-grouse Centrocercus urophasianus, an imperiled species in the North American sagebrush-steppe. Enhancing this vital rate through management represents an opportunity to increase bird numbers inside population strongholds. We identified management for grass height as an action that can improve nest success in an analysis of sage-grouse nests (n = 529) from a long-term study (2003–2007) in the Powder River Basin, southeast Montana and northeast Wyoming, USA. Average grass height by study area and year varied (11.4–29.2 cm) but its positive effects on nest survival were consistent among study years and study areas that differed in absolute rates of nest success. We tested the predictive ability of models by grouping output from log-link analyses (2004–2006) into two bins with nest success probabilities < 0.45 and > 0.55, and validated the relationship with additional data from 2003 and 2007. Nests with probabilities > 0.55 were 1.64 (2004–2006) to 3.11 (2007) times more likely to hatch than those < 0.45, except in 2003 when an early wet spring resulted in universally high grass height at nest sites (29.2 cm) and high predicted nest success (64%). The high predictive power of grass height illustrates its utility as a management tool to increase nest success within priority landscapes. Relationships suggest that managing grass height during drought may benefit sage-grouse populations.