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Post-release breeding of translocated sharp-tailed grouse and an absence of artificial insemination effects

Mathews, Steven R., Coates, Peter S., Fike, Jennifer A., Schneider, Helena, Fischer, Dominik, Oyler-McCance, Sara J., Lierz, Michael, Delehanty, David J.
Wildlife research 2019 v.46 no.1 pp. 12-24
Centrocercus, Tympanuchus phasianellus, adults, artificial insemination, chicks, egg fertility, eggs, extraembryonic membranes, females, grouse, habitats, lekking, males, nesting, paternity, philopatry, tissues, wildlife, Nevada
Context Translocation has become a widely used method to restore wildlife populations following extirpation. For some species, such as lekking grouse, which breed at traditional mating grounds, reproduction is linked to culturally established geographic locations. Cultural centres are lost upon extirpation, making restoration into otherwise rehabilitated habitats especially challenging. The process by which species with culturally dependent reproduction sometimes become re-established is poorly understood and merits investigation to improve conservation strategies. Historically, population restoration of North American lekking grouse (Tympanuchus spp. and Centrocercus spp.) via translocation has yielded poor results, in part because translocation sites lack leks, culturally determined breeding locations for which breeding adults form a high degree of philopatry. Columbian sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus columbianus; CSTG) occurs in <10% of its historic range, but the existence of rehabilitated historic habitat provides for the potential of population restoration via translocation. Aims We reintroduced CSTG to vacant habitat in north-central Nevada, USA, from 2013 to 2017, with concordant goals of promoting females to nest and males to lek. We tested the utility of performing artificial insemination (AI) on females before translocation and we conducted paternity analyses to understand male reproduction. Methods We monitored females for the effects of AI on nest initiation, nest survival and egg fertility. We used post-hatch extra-embryonic membranes and other tissues to evaluate paternity of chicks produced at the restoration site. Key results Artificial insemination had no effect on female survival or nest initiation, and did not fertilise any eggs within nine sampled clutches (n=102 eggs). Most paternity was attributable to male residents that had survived for ≥1 year at the restoration site before the arrival of translocated females. Conclusions Artificial insemination neither aided nor harmed female reproduction. A small number of translocated, resident adult males sired reproduction following female release. Implications The presence of resident males at restoration sites may be more likely to result in post-translocation reproduction than is pre-translocation AI. Restoring CSTG to vacant habitat should focus on translocating females into suitable nesting habitat while simultaneously ensuring that reproductively capable males are available within or adjacent to the nesting habitat.