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Landscape Demography and Spatial Use of Lesser Prairie-Chickens in Kansas and Colorado

Investigator:
Dan Sullins, Ph.D. Student

Project Supervisor:
Dr. David Haukos

Funding:
Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism

Cooperators:
Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Great Plains LCC
USDA Forest Service

Location:
Kansas and eastern Colorado

Completion:
May 2017

Status:  Completed



Objectives:
Determine the relative influence of vital rates on population rate of change.

Examine the influence of various landscape level habitat and demographic variables on the total population of lesser prairie-chickens.

Results:
The lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) is 1 of 3 prairie-grouse species in North America. Prairie-grouse have undergone local or widespread declines due to a loss of habitat through conversion to row crop agriculture, anthropogenic development, and alteration of ecological drivers that maintain quality grasslands. For lesser prairie-chickens, habitat loss and declines were deemed significant for listing as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2014. Despite a judge vacating the listing decision in 2015, the lesser prairie-chicken remains a species of concern. Conservation plans are currently being implemented and developed. To maximize the effectiveness of efforts, knowledge of the distribution of lesser prairie-chickens, regional demography, foods used during critical life-stages, and where to prioritize management is needed. To guide future conservation efforts with empirical evidence, I captured, marked with transmitters, and monitored female lesser prairie-chickens in Kansas and Colorado during 2013-2016 (n =307). I used location data to predict the distribution of habitat. Encounter data from individuals were used to estimate vital rates and integrated into a matrix population model to estimate population growth rates (λ). The matrix model was then decomposed to identify life-stages that exert the greatest influence on ? and vital rate contributions to differences in λ among sites. After assessing demography, I examined the diet of adults and chicks during critical brood rearing and winter periods using a fecal DNA metabarcoding approach. Overall, potential habitat appears to compromise ~30% of the presumed lesser prairie-chicken range in Kansas with most habitat in the Mixed-Grass Prairie Ecoregion. Within occupied sites, populations were most sensitive to factors during the first year of life (chick and juvenile survival), however, the persistence of populations through drought may rely on adult survival. Among regional populations, breeding season, nest, and nonbreeding season survival rates contributed most to differences in λ among sites, breeding season survival contributed to differences in λ among more and less fragmented sites. During critical life-stages, diets were comprised of arthropod and plant foods. Among 80 readable fecal samples, 35% of the sequences were likely from Lepidoptera, 26% from Orthoptera, 14% from Araneae, and 13% from Hemiptera. Plant sequences from 137 fecal samples were comprised of genera similar to Ambrosia (27%) Latuca or Taraxacum (10%), Medicago (6%), and Triticum (5%). Among cover types, lesser prairie-chickens using native grasslands consumed a greater diversity of foods. Last, promising conservation options include the conversion of cropland to grassland through the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and tree removal in mixed-grass prairie landscapes. Lesser prairie-chickens mostly used CRP during nesting and the nonbreeding season, during drier periods, and in drier portions of their distribution. Strategic CRP sign-up and tree removal could recover >60,000 ha and~100,000 ha of habitat respectively. In summary, conservation that targets management in areas within broad scale habitat constraints predicted will be most beneficial. In areas occupied by lesser prairie-chickens, management that increases brood survival in large grasslands having optimal nesting structure will elicit the strongest influence on population growth and will likely be the most resilient to stochastic drought-related effects.




Figure 1. Bar graph displaying contributions of life stages to positive and negative population growth estimates among the Clark, Northwestern Kansas, Red Hills, and Colorado study areas.


Figure 2. Nest survival estimates for LEPC nests in CRP grasslands (n=33) and native prairie (n=69) in Gove and Logan County, Kansas.



Figure 3. Probability of use by LPC based on Visual obstruction (DM).


ClarkCo


Figure 4. Clark County study area and lesser prairie-chicken distribution model predictions for the 2014 breeding season. (Click to enlarge)
Foraging


Figure 3. Plant foods consumed by marked female LEPC among 4 study areas in Kansas and Colorado during the winter of 2014. (Click to enlarge)

Foraging

Figure 3. Plant foods consumed by marked female LEPC among 4 study areas in Kansas and Colorado during the winter of 2014. (Click to enlarge)






Products:

Dissertation:
Sullins, Daniel S. (Ph.D., 2017; advisor Haukos) Regional variation in demography, distribution, foraging, and strategic conservation of lesser prairie-chickens in Kansas and Colorado. Ph.D. Dissertation, Division of Biology, Kansas State University.

Professional Presentations:

Sullins, D. S., J. M. Lautenbach and D. A. Haukos. 2017. Tradeoffs of Nest and Brood Habitat Availability for Lesser Prairie-Chickens. The Wildlife Society 24th Annual Conference, Albuquerque, NM.

Sullins, D. S., J. Kraft, D. A. Haukos, and B. K. Sandercock. 2017. Selection and Demographic Consequences for Conservation Reserve Program Grasslands for Lesser Prairie Chickens. Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference, Lincoln, NE.

Sullins, D. S., D. A. Haukos, J. Kraft, J.D. Lautenbach, J. M. Lautenbach, R. T. Plumb, S.R. Robinson, B. Ross, and B.K. Sandercock. 2017. Strategic Regional Conservation for Lesser Prairie-Chickens among Landscapes of Varying Anthropogenic Influence. Kansas Natural Resources Conference, Wichita, KS.

Sullins, D.S., and D.A. Haukos. 2016. Lesser prairie-chicken foraging in native and CRP grasslands of Kansas and Colorado. Annual Meeting of The Wildlife Society, Raleigh, NC.

Sullins, D.S., D.A. Haukos, J. Kraft, J. Lautenbach, J. Lautenbach, R. Plumb, S. Robinson, and B. Ross. 2016. Conservation planning for lesser prairie-chickens among reproductive and survivorship landscapes of varying anthropogenic influence. North American Congress for Conservation Biology, Madison, WI. (Invited)

Sullins, Daniel S. 2016. Available Food and Diets of Lesser Prairie-chickens in Native and CRP Grassland of Kansas and Colorado. Kansas Natural Resources Conference, Wichita, KS.

Sullins, Daniel S. 2016. Impacts of Conservation Reserve Program Grassland on Lesser Prairie-chicken Populations in the Northern Extent of Their Range. Kansas Natural Resources Conference, Wichita, KS.

Sullins, D. 2016. Impacts of Conservation Reserve Program grasslands on lesser prairie-chicken populations in the northern extent of their range. Annual Graduate Research Forum, Division of Biology.

Sullins, Daniel S. 2016. Lesser Prairie-Chicken Foraging in Native and CRP Grasslands of Kansas and Colorado. Society for Range Management Annual Conference, Corpus Christi, TX.

Sullins, D.S., and D.A. Haukos. 2015. Optimal nesting substrate drives lesser prairie-chicken habitat use in Kansas and Colorado. Kansas Natural Resource Conference, Wichita.

Sullins, D.S., D.A. Haukos, and B.K. Sandercock. 2015. Demographic sensitivity of the threatened lesser prairie-chicken. Joint meeting of American Ornithologists' Union (133rd Meeting) and Cooper Ornithological Society (85th Meeting). University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK.

Sullins, D.S., D.A. Haukos, and B.K. Sandercock. 2015. Lesser prairie-chicken regional demographic variability in Kansas and Colorado. Biennial meeting of the Prairie Grouse Technical Council, Nevada, Missouri.

Sullins, D.S., D.A. Haukos, and B.K. Sandercock. 2015. Regional demographic variability for lesser prairie-chickens in Kansas and Colorado. Annual meeting of the Central Mountains and Plains Section of The Wildlife Society, Manhattan, Kansas.

Sullins, D.S., and J.D. Kraft, J.M. Lautenbach, R.T. Plumb, S.G. Robinson, J.D. Lautenbach, and D.A. Haukos. 2015. Basic ecological considerations for the effective management of lesser prairie-chickens in Kansas and Colorado. Natural Resources Conservation Services Rangeland Specialists Meeting, Salina, KS,.

Sullins, D.S., and D.A. Haukos. 2014. Identifying optimal lesser prairie-chicken habitat in Kansas and Colorado. Kansas Natural Resources Conference, Wichita, Kansas.

Sullins, D.S., and D.A. Haukos. 2014. Habitat use of lesser prairie-chickens in Kansas and Colorado. Kansas Ornithological Society meeting.