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Breeding Season Survival, Space Use, Movement, and Habitat Use of Female Lesser Prairie-Chickens (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) in Kansas and Colorado

Investigators:
Reid Plumb, M.S. Student

Project Supervisors:
Dr. David Haukos
Jim Pitman

Funding:
Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism
Colorado Department of Wildlife and Parks
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
NRCS USDA
FSA USDA
U.S. Geological Survey

Cooperators:
Christian Hagen
Jeff Prendergast
TNC
CGC

Location:
Kansas and Colorado

Completion:
February 2015

Status: Completed


Lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus)

Objectives:
Quantify breeding season survival of lesser prairie-chicken (LPCH) populations in Kansas and Colorado.

Quantify breeding season movement and space use of adult female LPCH in Kansas and Colorado.

Identify LPCH habitat patch use during the breeding season.

Compare vital rates and drivers among populations.

Identify the effects of habitat patch size, composition, and fragmentation on vital rates of LPCH populations.

Progress and Results:
The Lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus is an endemic North American prairie grouse once widely distributed in the southwestern Great Plains. Recent population declines and continued threats to lesser prairie-chicken populations prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the species as "threatened" under the protection of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 in May 2014. The northern extent of the species range in Kansas and Colorado supports 2/3 of the remaining range-wide population of lesser prairie-chickens, but has thus far been relatively understudied. Concern for species viability has created a need to fill current knowledge gaps in lesser prairie-chicken ecology, provide more recent demographic information, and develop appropriate conservation actions. I evaluated female survival, movement, space use, and effects of anthropogenic features during the breeding seasons of 2013 and 2014. I captured and radio-tagged 201 females with satellite GPS (N = 114) and VHF (N = 82) transmitters within the three ecoregions of Kansas and Colorado. Mean daily movement varied by region, year, and breeding season period but the amount of space used was consistent between ecoregions and years. On average, females moved 1352 m + 12 [SE] per day. Females moved the greatest distances during the lekking period of the breeding season with females moving 2074 m + 36 per day. Females were most sedentary during the brooding period moving only 780 m + 14 per day. Mean breeding season home range size was estimated to be 340 ha + 27. The lekking period had the greatest amount of movement as a result of females visiting leks to find mates, copulate, and search for nest locations. Female's movements were reduced during the brooding period because of physical limitations of the brood mobility. Variation in movement between ecoregions was most likely a product of fragmentation as females moved 10-30% more in northwest Kansas compared to the study sites, which was characterized by northwest Kansas having the greatest degree of fragmentation. Survival varied by ecoregion with females in northwest Kansas having the lowest probability of surviving the 6-month breeding season compared to other ecoregions. Estimated 6-month breeding season survival during 2013 and 2014 was 0.455 (95% CI = 0.38 - 0.53). Survival was lowest during the nesting period, which claimed 59.5% of all observed mortalities. Survival increased from 2013 to 2014 in northwest Kansas as grassland habitats recovered from extreme drought conditions in 2013. Drought was less severe in south-central Kansas and survival rates remained fairly consistent across years. Avian and mammalian predators caused 45.7% and 34.3% of breeding season mortalities, respectively. Other mortalities were either cause by snakes or were unknown (5.7%, 14.3%). Overhead cover may have been limited from drought conditions causing nesting females to be more visible to avian predators during incubation. When pooled across years and ecoregions, rump-mounted GPS transmitters did not adversely affect female survival when compared to commonly used necklace style VHF transmitter (VHF: 0.48 95% CI = 0.39 - 0.58; GPS: 0.50 95% CI = 0.38 - 0.64). Distance to distribution power lines and lek were significant predictors of female space use within their home range with females behaviorally avoiding distribution power lines and using space closer to leks. Space use decreased with increasing oil well density. Females avoided areas that had well densities of 23 wells/250 ha. Observed female locations were further from anthropogenic features but closer to leks on average than at random. Avoidance behavior of anthropogenic features may result in functional habitat loss and reduce the amount of suitable habitat available; compounding previously fragmented landscapes. Anthropogenic features may limit movement by acting as barriers on the landscape and potentially disrupt population connectivity. Furthermore, habitats selected for nesting and brooding may result in potential ecological traps because of reduce breeding success when impacted by increased occurrence and densities of anthropogenic features. Reduced breeding success can have significant negative impacts on population persistence. Average home range size across all ecoregions indicated that female lesser prairie-chickens need at least 340 ha of habitat to fulfill her life-history requirements during the breeding season. Brooding habitats need to be in close proximity (< 750 m) to nesting cover to reduce distance traversed by newly hatched broods. Reducing grazing pressure will ensure that sufficient vertical habitat structure is available during the nesting period and increase female survival; especially in times of drought. Mangers should restrict construction of anthropogenic features near or within suitable lesser prairie-chicken habitat with emphasis on distribution power lines. Well densities should not exceed 1 well/60 acres (11 wells/section) for a >10% probability of use. However, because the affect that density of wells has on demographic rates of lesser prairie-chickens has yet to be determined, a conservative approach where well densities in or adjacent to grassland patches should be minimized as much as possible is best.





Figure 2. 2013 breeding season habitat use by period of female lesser prairie-chickens in NW Kansas.


Figure 3. Temporal and regional variation of average weekly movements of female lesser prairie-chickens in Kansas.


Products:
Thesis
Plumb, Reid T. (M.S. 2015; advisor Haukos). Lesser prairie-chicken movement, space use, survival, and response to anthropogenic structures in Kansas and Colorado. M.S. Thesis, Kansas State University.

Professional Presentations
Sink, C., and D. A. Haukos. 2017. Influence of Raptor Abundance on Female Lesser Prairie-Chicken Habitat Selection. Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference, Lincoln, NE.

Sink, C., and D. A. Haukos. 2017. Influence of Raptor Abundance on Female Lesser Prairie-Chicken Habitat Selection. Kansas Natural Resources Conference, Wichita, KS.

Plumb, R.T., J.M. Lautenbach, S.G. Robinson, J.D. Kraft, D. Sullins, J. Lautenbach, D.A. Haukos, J.L. Winder, J.C. Pitman, C.A. Hagen, and D. Dahlgren. 2016. Lesser prairie-chicken space use response to anthropogenic structures among landscapes. North American Congress for Conservation Biology, Madison, WI. (Invited)

Plumb, R., J.M. Lautenbach, S.G. Robinson, J.D. Kraft, D. Sullins, D.A. Haukos, J.C. Pitman, C.A. Hagen, and D. Dahlgren. 2015. Lesser prairie-chicken space use response to anthropogenic structures among landscapes. Annual meeting of the Central Mountains and Plains Section of The Wildlife Society, Manhattan, Kansas.

Plumb, R., J.M. Lautenbach, S.G. Robinson, J.D. Kraft, D. Sullins, D.A. Haukos, J.C. Pitman, C.A. Hagen, and D. Dahlgren. 2015. Lesser prairie-chicken space use response to anthropogenic structures. Biennial meeting of the Prairie Grouse Technical Council, Nevada, Missouri.

Plumb, R.T., J. Lautenbach, B. Ross, D. Spencer, D. Haukos, J. Pitman, and D. Dahlgren. 2014. Breeding season habitat patch use by female lesser prairie-chickens in Kansas and Colorado. Joint meeting of American Ornithologists' Union, Cooper Ornithological Society, and Society of Canadian Ornithologists, Estes Park, Colorado.

Plumb, R.T., J. Lautenbach, B. Ross, D. Spencer, D. Haukos, J. Pitman, and D. Dahlgren. 2014. Effects of habitat patch use on breeding season survivorship of lesser prairie-chickens in Kansas and Colorado. Joint meeting of American Ornithologists' Union, Cooper Ornithological Society, and Society of Canadian Ornithologists, Estes Park, Colorado.

Plumb, R.T., J. Lautenbach, B. Ross, D. Spencer, D. Haukos, J. Pitman, J. Augustine, K. Oxenrider, and D. Dahlgren. 2014. Breeding season space use dynamics of female lesser prairie-chickens in Kansas and Colorado. Symposium on Animal Movement and the Environment, Raleigh, North Carolina.

Plumb, R.T., J. Lautenbach, B. Ross, D. Spencer, D. Haukos, J. Pitman, J. Augustine, K. Oxenrider, and D. Dahlgren. 2014. Past, Present, and Future: using historical and information to guide conservation decisions for an iconic prairie grouse of the southwestern Great Plains. Regional Pheasants Forever and Quail Unlimited Conference, Wichita, Kansas.

Plumb, R.T., D.A. Haukos, J.M. Pitman, J.K. Augustine, K.J. Oxenrider, and D. Dahlgren. 2014. Breeding season home-range characteristics of female lesser prairie-chickens in Kansas and Colorado. Kansas Natural Resources Conference, Wichita, KS.

Plumb, R.T., D.A. Haukos, J.M. Pitman, J.K. Augustine, K.J. Oxenrider, and D. Dahlgren. 2014. Nest site location by lesser prairie-chickens in Kansas and Colorado. Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference, Kansas City, MO.

Plumb, R.T., Lautenbach, J., D.A. Haukos, J.M. Pitman, J.K. Augustine, K.J. Oxenrider, and D. Dahlgren. 2014. Effects of habitat patch selection on breeding season survivorship of lesser prairie-chickens in Kansas and Colorado. Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference, Kansas City, MO.

Plumb, R., J. Lautenbach, D. Haukos, J. Pitman, J. Augustine, K. Oxenrider, and D. Dahlgren. 2013. Adult female survival of lesser prairie-chickens in Kansas and Colorado. Biennial Prairie Grouse Technical Council Meeting, Crookston, MN

Plumb, R., J. Lautenbach, D. Haukos, J. Pitman, J. Augustine, K. Oxenrider, and D. Dahlgren. 2013. Breeding season movements of adult female lesser prairie-chickens in Kansas and Colorado. Biennial Prairie Grouse Technical Council Meeting, Crookston, MN