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Vegetation Structure Characteristics Across Land Cover Types and Lesser Prairie Chicken Habitat Selection, Response to Grazing Strategies and Predator Communities in Western Kansas

Investigators:
John Kraft, M.S. Student

Project Supervisor:
Dr. David Haukos

Funding:
Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks,
and Tourism
Natural Resources Conservation Service

Cooperators:
Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism
Natural Resources Conservation Service
The Nature Conservancy
Kansas State University

Location:
Western Kansas and eastern Colorado

Completion:
Novemer 2016

Status:  Completed


Lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus)

Objectives:

Quantify the relative vegetation structure differences across land cover types.

Investigate habitat selection across ecological sites for various ecological periods (e.g. lekking, nesting, brooding) of LEPC hens.

Investigate the influence of landscape composition and configuration on LEPC home range establishment.

Investigate vegetation and habitat selection and demographic response of LEPC to livestock grazing strategies used in western Kansas

Investigate the influence of predator communities on LEPC habitat selection.

Progress and Results:
Habitat and its influence on wildlife species is an important subject for research and management. Lesser Prairie-Chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus; hereafter LEPC) management often revolves around manipulating small- and large-scale habitat characteristics to better suit LEPC ecological needs. At large scales, the composition and configuration of land cover types (e.g. grasslands, croplands, and Conservation Reserve Program [CRP]) may be influential on the presence or absence of LEPC populations. As the scale compresses, more detailed land cover types (e.g., ecological sites) and vegetation characteristics (species composition and vegetation structure) become influential on processes (e.g., ecological periods) defined by small temporal scales. Understanding the influence of this multi-scale habitat continuum on LEPC habitat selection and demographics is important for creating landscapes suitable for viable populations. Furthermore, understanding the influence of land use practices on small-scale vegetation structure and composition is also important to creating land use strategies. Results thus far indicate that at larger scales (i.e., annual home range), as the total amount of grasslands (excluding CRP) and the continuity of those grasslands increases the probability of home range establishment increases as well. At smaller scales, ecological sites and microhabitat characteristics (e.g., visual obstruction, grass cover, litter cover, and bare ground cover) influence LEPC habitat selection through the various ecological periods. The most robust vegetation is selected during nesting periods while sites with greater bare ground cover and forb cover are selected during brooding periods. In the Northwest study site, land cover types consistently selected include CRP tracts and the Sandy ecological sites and selection of Limy Upland and Loamy Upland increased during brooding. When CRP was not significantly available within a study site, as was the case in the Redhills and Clark sites, the selected cover types changed. In the Redhills site, Loamy and Limy Upland sites are selected consistently and selection of Sandy sites increased during the brooding periods. However, presence of trees at lower elevations may be driving this selection of upland habitats. At the Clark study site Sandy, Saline Subirrigated and Sandy Lowland sites were selected consistently across ecological periods. When the influence of livestock grazing strategies was included into habitat selection analyses the influence of land cover types diminished. From a livestock management stand point, we observed the greatest levels of habitat selection in pastures that exhibited the greatest area (>400 ha), relatively lower stocking densities (i.e., result of larger pasture sizes), and moderate levels of growing season deferment (50-90 days). Greater pasture size also increases annual survival of adults and daily nest survival. We believe the vegetation response to these grazing strategies explain LEPC habitat selection results. Mean visual obstruction and grass cover was found to be greater in larger pastures. Also, larger pastures also led to greater heterogeneity of grass and forb ground cover. This increased heterogeneity of vegetation structure likely provides areas suitable for a wider range of LEPC ecological needs. Future research will include more investigation into vegetation response to grazing practices (deferment and stocking densities) and the link between vegetation response and LEPC habitat selection. Furthermore, we will investigate the influence of predator (mammal and avian) communities on LEPC habitat selection and survival by analyzing abundance indices of predators created using camera trap and point count surveys.

Products:
Thesis:

Kraft, John (M.S., 2016; advisor Haukos) Vegetation Characteristics and Lesser Prairie Chicken Responses to Land Cover Types and Grazing Management in Western Kansas. Master's Thesis, Division of Biology, Kansas State University.

Professional Presentations:
Kraft, J.D., D. Haukos, C. Hagen, and J. Pitman. 2016. Are larger pastures and sparser herds the way to manage grassland birds? A case-study of the lesser prairie-chicken. Annual Meeting of The Wildlife Society, Raleigh, NC. (Invited)

Kraft, John. 2016. Evaluation of Lesser Prairie-chicken Brood Habitat Selection Across Categorical Habitats. Kansas Natural Resources Conference, Wichita, KS.

Kraft, John. 2016. Dynamic Interactions of Conservation Reserve Program, Native Grasslands and Lesser Prairie-chicken Habitat Selection. Kansas Natural Resources Conference, Wichita, KS.

Kraft, John. 2016. Implications of Pasture Area, Grazing Strategy, and Site on Lesser Prairie-Chicken Habitat Selection and Vegetation. Society for Range Management Annual Conference, Corpus Christi, TX.

Kraft, J.D., D. Haukos, J. Pitman, and C. Hagen. 2015. Identifying drivers of lesser prairie-chicken habitat selection within western Kansas grazed lands. Annual Meeting of the Kansas Ornithological Society, Emporia, KS.

Kraft, J.D. 2015. Third-order selection of a prairie specialist lesser prairie-chicken habitat selection in varying landscapes. Division of Biology, Graduate Student Forum.

Kraft, J.D., and D.A. Haukos. 2015. Landscape level habitat selection of female lesser prairie-chickens in western Kansas and eastern Colorado. International Grouse Symposium, Reykjavik, Iceland.

Kraft, J.D., J. Lautenbach, D. Haukos, J. Pitman, and C. Hagen. 2015. Female lesser prairie-chicken response to grazing in western Kansas grasslands. Biennial meeting of the Prairie Grouse Technical Council, Nevada, Missouri.

Kraft, J.D., J. Lautenbach, D. Haukos, J. Pitman, and C. Hagen. 2015. Female lesser prairie-chicken response to grazing in western Kansas grasslands. Annual meeting of the Central Mountains and Plains Section of The Wildlife Society, Manhattan, Kansas.

Kraft, J.D., J. Lautenbach, D.A. Haukos, and J.C. Pitman. 2015. Seasonal habitat selection by female lesser prairie-chickens in varying landscapes. Kansas Natural Resource Conference, Wichita.

Kraft, J.D., J. Lautenbach, D.A. Haukos, J.C. Pitman, and C.A. Hagen. 2015. Female lesser prairie-chicken response to grazing practices in western Kansas grasslands. Annual Meeting of the Society of Range Management, Sacramento, CA.

Kraft, J.D., S.G. Robinson, R.T. Plumb, and D.A. Haukos. 2015. Landscape characteristics of home ranges of lesser prairie-chickens. Joint meeting of American Ornithologists' Union and Cooper Ornithological Society, Norman, OK.