Factors affecting female space use in ten populations of prairie chickens

TitleFactors affecting female space use in ten populations of prairie chickens
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsWinder, VL, Carrlson, KM, Gregory, AJ, Hagen, CA, Haukos, DA, Kesler, DC, Larsson, LC, Matthews, TW, McNew, LB, Patten, MA, Pitman, JC, Powell, LA, Smith, JA, Thompson, T, Wolfe, DH, Sandercock, BK
Accession NumberKNZ001773

Conservation of wildlife depends on an understanding of the interactions between animal movements and key landscape factors. Habitat requirements of wide-ranging species often vary spatially, but quantitative assessment of variation among replicated studies at multiple sites is rare. We investigated patterns of space use for 10 populations of two closely related species of prairie grouse: Greater Prairie-Chickens (Tympanuchus cupido) and Lesser Prairie-Chickens (T. pallidicinctus). Prairie chickens require large, intact tracts of native grasslands, and are umbrella species for conservation of prairie ecosystems in North America. We used resource utilization functions to investigate space use by female prairie chickens during the 6-month breeding season from March through August in relation to lek sites, habitat conditions, and anthropogenic development. Our analysis included data from 382 radio-marked individuals across a major portion of the extant range. Our project is a unique opportunity to study comparative space use of prairie chickens, and we employed standardized methods that facilitated direct comparisons across an ecological gradient of study sites. Median home range size of females varied ~10-fold across 10 sites (3.6–36.7 km2), and home ranges tended to be larger at sites with higher annual precipitation. Proximity to lek sites was a strong and consistent predictor of space use for female prairie chickens at all 10 sites. The relative importance of other predictors of space use varied among sites, indicating that generalized habitat management guidelines may not be appropriate for these two species. Prairie chickens actively selected for prairie habitats, even at sites where ~90% of the land cover within the study area was prairie. A majority of the females monitored in our study (>95%) had activity centers within 5 km of leks, suggesting that conservation efforts can be effectively concentrated near active lek sites. Our data on female space use suggest that lek surveys of male prairie chickens can indirectly assess habitat suitability for females during the breeding season. Lek monitoring and surveys for new leks provide information on population trends, but can also guide management actions aimed at improving nesting and brood-rearing habitats.