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Lesser Prairie-Chicken Response to USDA Conservation Practices in Kansas and Colorado

Investigators:
Reid Plumb

Project Supervisors:
Dr. David Haukos

Funding:
USDA Farm Services Agency

Cooperators:
Dr. Christian Hagen
Jim Pitman
Dr. David Dahlgren
Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism

Location:
Throughout Kansas and eastern Colorado

Completion:
December 2013

Status: Initiation Fall 2012


Lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus)

Objectives:
Quantify landscape connectivity created by CRP fields throughout the LEPC range and identify thresholds important to maintaining LEPC population persistence.

Document the spatial relationships between lesser prairie-chickens and USDA conservation practices throughout the annual cycle (e.g., leks, nest sites, brood use, winter flocks).

Using occupancy (PRESENCE) and species occurrence (e.g., MAXENT) models: quantify the spatial extent, juxtaposition, and habitat composition/structure of CRP grasslands and native prairie habitat that yield high likelihood of LEPC occurrence.

Link occupancy of the “best” landscapes to fitness parameters for populations.

Examine occupancy and fitness and finer scale measures to quantify the relative values of various management strategies for CRP and other USDA conservation programs.

Progress and Results:
Significant numbers of lesser prairie-chickens of Kansas and Colorado are associated with former croplands that have been enrolled in a U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation programs/practices, principally the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP). Trends in these populations are relatively stable to increasing based on the appearance of leks, count data, and anecdotal information. At a broad-scale CRP has reduced habitat fragmentation and assisted in connecting extant and expanding populations. Additionally, conservation practices with CRP fields that may be affecting these populations include vegetation species composition, development of supplemental water areas, mid-term management practices, and emergency haying/grazing declarations. Use of CRP may also be related to juxtaposition of CRP, cropland, and other land uses. Practices associated with EQIP that may affect lesser prairie-chickens include grazing management (e.g., fencing and water development), irrigation strategies, and invasive species control. There is a need to assess the effects of USDA conservation practices on lesser prairie-chickens to develop guidelines and recommendation for the establishment and management of conservation practices for landowners interested in managing for lesser prairie-chickens. In addition, the overall population response by lesser prairie-chickens to conservation programs needs to be assessed in regard to demography of the population to model future population trends. A land cover map (PLJV, CLU, or Regional GAP with assessment adjustments) will be imported into a Geographic Information System (GIS). Current CRP enrollments will be added as a GIS layer. In addition, a layer of LEPC lek locations based on historical data and annual changes in lek locations during the past decade from historical surveys will be created. Finally, lek locations from the 2012 range-wide survey will be added as an additional layer. Patch occupancy will be evaluated using programs PRESENCE and MAXENT at a variety of spatial scales. Occupancy will be determined by the presence of leks and results from telemetry data (see below). Beta values of a suite of independent variables (e.g., patch size, distance to other patches, patch composition, etc.) will be used to judge relative influence of each variable on occupancy. Using satellite and VHF telemetry, LEPC use of CRP fields will be documented. Vital rates (nest success, survival relative to other habitat types) will be determined for each patch type and used to rank patch quality. Resource selection functions will be used to determine habitat use relative to availability. Home range estimates in CRP will be compared to other habitat types. Dispersal and movements within and among CRP habitat patches will be measured. All measurements and comparisons will be in context of available USDA NRCS conservation practices. Habitat measurements of occupied and unoccupied CRP fields will be recorded. Differences in habitat of occupied and unoccupied CRP will be determined using multivariate statistics and ordination. Population demography will be linked to a variety of USDA conservation practices. Fitness parameters (e.g., survival, recruitment) will be measured in CRP relative to other habitat types. The influence of CRP on LEPC populations will be determined by scaling results up to landscape levels. A variety of landscape metrics (e.g., edge, patch size, patch configuration, interpatch relationships) will be calculated using FRAGSTATS at a variety of different scales. Landscape and structural connectivity will be evaluated at several different biologically relevant dispersal distances using network/graph theory with programs CONFORE and PAYJACK to determine distances at which the network is complete or collapses. Geospatial simulations (e.g., sensitivity analyses) will be used to evaluate the ability of the network to support LEPC population persistence. We will evaluate structural and functional connectivity using spatially explicit simulation models and network analysis. Functional connectivity will be assessed using immigration/emigration rates among patches and home range size. These data will result in an estimate the likelihood of movement and occurrence among patches, patch importance to network connectivity and possibility even persistence rates within patches with estimates of survivorship included.

Products:
Ross, B.E., D. Haukos, C. Hagen, and J. Pitman. 2014. Changes of Lesser Prairie-Chicken Abundance in Kansas. Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference, Kansas City, MO.

Ross, B.E., D. Haukos, C. Hagen, and J. Pitman. 2014. Changes of Lesser Prairie-Chicken Abundance in Kansas. Kansas Natural Resources Conference, Wichita, KS.

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