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The anatomy of population change in a black grouse population 1992–2008

Matthew Geary, Alan H. Fielding, Stuart J. Marsden
Oecologia 2012 v.168 no.1 pp. 73-81
Tetrao, Tetrix, correlation, females, grouse, landscapes, longevity, males, monitoring, population growth, population size, weather, Scotland
We interrogate an 18-year-long dataset containing counts of displaying male black grouse Tetrao tetrix and incidental counts of females within an 800-km2 region of Perthshire, Scotland. We examine the trends in the population and investigate how different components of the population might act as signposts of different stages of overall population change. We found statistical evidence for a decline in black grouse numbers between 1992 and 2000, and then a recovery from 2002 to 2008, but little evidence for a link between population change and weather during the decline phase. There was some evidence for a positive relationship between male and female counts. The two main components of male population size, lek size and lek frequency followed the overall population trend while it was increasing, but during the earlier decline, the two became uncoupled, to expose a complex structure within the data. During the decline, when black grouse numbers were approaching their minimum, mean lek size was actually increasing. Small leks lost proportionally more birds than did large leks, and lek longevity was positively correlated with lek size, indicating that maintenance of large leks is crucial in buffering the population against serious declines. During the decline, the spatial arrangement of leks changed, with remnant leks showing tight clustering at larger spatial scales, before expanding out to fill the large areas of unoccupied landscape during the population increase. We discuss these findings in terms of species monitoring and suggest that counts of young males may add much useful demographic information with little extra effort.