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Ecosystems - Greater Sage-Grouse and Sagebrush Steppe

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Change Agents

Human actions and natural processes affect sage-grouse and their habitats through a variety of mechanisms. Understand the influence of these factors on sage-grouse and sagebrush steppe ecosystem condition can help inform decisions about future development and the develop of measure to minimized impacts. USGS scientists are addressing many of the important change agents in this ecosystem including the influence of surface disturbance and the subsequent removal of sagebrush steppe habitat, expansion of conifer trees into sagebrush shrublands, spread of invasive species such as cheatgrass, rangeland fire, and livestock grazing.

Seasonal Space Use in Relation to Leks: Implications for Surface-use Designation in Sagebrush Ecosystems

The development of anthropogenic structures, especially those related to energy resources, in sagebrush ecosystems has the possibility to negatively affect sage-grouse. Land management agencies have attempted to reduce the negative effects of anthropogenic development on sage-grouse by assigning surface use designations, such as “no surface occupancy,” to areas around leks. USGS and collaborators used telemetry data to quantify utilization distributions for seasonal periods in relation to leks within areas inhabited by the Bi-State DPS of Greater Sage-grouse in Nevada and California. Research resulted in theoretical optimal distances for surface use designation between 5.0 km and 7.5 km, depending on migratory status. Although these results represent space use for sage-grouse within the Bi-State DPS, the results likely have broad relevance to other areas with similar landscape characteristics and patterns of space use.

For Additional Information

Publications

Peter S. Coates
USGS Western Ecological Research Center
pcoates@usgs.gov
530-669-5073
Evaluating greater sage-grouse seasonal space use relative to leks: Implications for surface use designations in sagebrush ecosystems

Journal of Wildlife Management, 2013

Implications of Renewable Energy Development on Greater Sage-grouse Populations in Nevada

Much of Nevada is targeted for proposed energy transmission corridors, and potential paths for the corridor would dissect prime, contiguous sagebrush-steppe habitat. USGS is conducting Greater Sage-Grouse research on a broad geographical scale at multiple study sites related to wind-energy development and the associated powerline corridors in Nevada. The goal is to answer questions related to effects of developing renewable energy on sage-grouse habitat selection, population vital rates, and movement patterns. This research provides resource managers with information and tools needed to develop guidelines for future renewable-energy projects that strive to minimize negative effects on Greater Sage-grouse.

For Additional Information

Peter S. Coates
USGS Western Ecological Research Center
pcoates@usgs.gov
530-669-5073

Effects of Invasive Cheatgrass on Habitat Selection and Population Vital Rates of Sage-Grouse in Nevada

Pervasive exotic plants, cheatgrass in particular, are among the primary threats to Greater Sage-Grouse in the Great Basin. USGS has multiple ongoing studies throughout the Great Basin evaluating the effects of cheatgrass on Greater Sage-Grouse habitat selection and population vital rates. Researchers have measured cheatgrass abundance and height at radio- and gps-marked sage-grouse locations and at random points. In a collaborative effort, USGS and others are incorporating this cheatgrass data in nest-site selection and nest-survival models in the Virginia Mountains of northwestern Nevada. Additionally, researchers are analyzing the effects of cheatgrass on selection and survival within the brood-rearing life phase in study areas across Nevada. This work will provide land managers with information on the relative effects of cheatgrass at multiple life stages, improving the ability to effectively target management and mitigation efforts.

For Additional Information

Publications

Michael Casazza
USGS Western Ecological Research Center
mike_casazza@usgs.gov
530-669-5075
Nest-site selection and reproductive success of greater sage-grouse in a fire-affected habitat of northwestern Nevada

Journal of Wildlife Management, 2015

Wildfire Patterns and Interactions with Vegetation within the Range of the Sage Grouse

Previous studies have indicated that the area burned by wildfires has increased during the past few decades in desert and semi-desert regions of North America; however, these reports are typically based upon point data or fire perimeter data that are often inaccurate and potentially misleading. USGS researchers are using highly accurate burn severity data derived from satellite imagery to perform more precise analyses to better characterize trends in area burned within the range of the sage grouse. They will use climate and environmental variables to evaluate potential future trends in area burned within each sage-grouse management zone and priority area. Researchers will also assess how potential, future shifts in sagebrush vegetation under climate change will affect the patterns and frequency of wildfire, especially due to the increasing influence of non-native grass species.

For Additional Information

Publications

Matthew L. Brooks
USGS Western Ecological Research Center
mlbrooks@usgs.gov
559-240-7622
Doug Shinneman
USGS Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
dshinneman@usgs.gov
208-426-5206
Fire patterns in the range of greater sage-grouse, 1984–2013—Implications for conservation and management

U.S. Geological Survey Open File Report 2015-1167, 2015

Evaluating Sage-grouse Responses to Burns and Sagebrush Restoration in Fire-Impacted Landscapes

To support the design of sagebrush-fire restoration efforts and link restoration outcomes with impacts on Sage-grouse, USGS scientists will simulate sage-grouse responses to fire-induced loss of sagebrush and examine alternative restoration scenarios using empirical sagebrush and sage-grouse data within a spatially-explicit individual-based modeling framework. Phase 1 efforts will evaluate the survival and success of sagebrush transplantations and generate sagebrush reclamation recommendations that can be directly implemented and evaluated at future burn sites.  Phase 2 efforts will focus on the empirical evaluation of modeling recommendations at burn sites and will characterize sagebrush restoration success and associated the associated occurrence and fitness of Sage-grouse.  This project will help with understanding how best to evaluate the effects of large burns on sage-grouse populations, as well as help to prioritize and successfully restore these habitats for sage-grouse.

For Additional Information

Cameron Aldridge
USGS Fort Collins Science Center
aldridgec@usgs.gov
970-226-9433
David Pyke
USGS Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
david_a_pyke@usgs.gov
541-750-0989

Utilizing a Natural Experiment to Directly Assess Wildfire Effects on Sage-Grouse: A Before and After Case Study

In 2012, a large wildfire burned more than 300,000 acres of priority sage-grouse habitat in northeastern California and northwestern Nevada. The burned area was considered the core of the remaining sage-grouse population in northern California. Beginning in the fall of 2014, USGS will take advantage of this opportunity to implement a study to compare post-fire vital rates, resource utilization, and genetics to the same measures estimated in the same area before the fire. Results from this study will increase ecological understanding of how sage-grouse respond demographically and spatially to wildfire, and will help land managers better evaluate the efficacy of post-fire actions designed to restore sagebrush habitat and restore ecosystem services.

For Additional Information

Peter S. Coates
USGS Western Ecological Research Center
pcoates@usgs.gov
530-669-5073

Landscape Level Assessment of Interactive Effects of Wildfire and Climate on Persistence of Greater Sage-Grouse

Wildfire and climate change are frequently identified as two important factors contributing to the decline of sage-grouse populations, yet fire regimes and climate patterns can vary substantially across broad geographic ranges. Hence, the magnitude and predictability of fire and climate effects on sage-grouse population dynamics and resource utilization at landscape scales are poorly understood and large-scale synthesis is necessary to forecast predictions. USGS has embarked on a hierarchical assessment of sage-grouse population trends over the past 30 years in relation to wildfire and climate gradients in the Great Basin throughout northeastern California, Nevada, Oregon, and Idaho.

Increases in burned area (cumulative) by R&R index class across the Great Basin from 1984 to 2013.

For Additional Information

Publications

Peter S. Coates
USGS Western Ecological Research Center
pcoates@usgs.gov
530-669-5073
Long-term effects of wildfire on greater sage-grouse—Integrating population and ecosystem concepts for management in the Great Basin

U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2015-1165, 2015

Understanding Sagebrush Ecohydrology and Climate Change Impacts to Inform Planning for Sage Grouse Conservation

Sagebrush directly acquires water from the soil, and altered patterns of available soil moisture as a result of climate change may influence the health and distribution of sagebrush ecosystems. This goal of project is to characterize the ecohydrological conditions that support sagebrush ecosystems, identify how those conditions will change in the future, and assess the range-wide potential impacts for sage-grouse habitat. In collaboration with university scientists, USGS is working to 1) quantify how climate change may impact areas suitable to support sagebrush, 2) understand the controls over sagebrush regeneration (a key limiting life stage for sagebrush), 3) describe uncertainty in species distribution models, and 4) improve the quality and usability of modeled future suitable sagebrush extent.

For Additional Information

Publications

John Bradford
USGS Southwest Biological Science Center
jbradford@usgs.gov
928-523-7766
Effects of ecohydrological variables on current and future ranges, local suitability patterns, and model accuracy in big sagebrush

Ecography, 2012

Modeling regeneration responses of big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) to abiotic conditions


Ecological Modeling, 2014

Assessing and Modeling Plant Community Composition and Vegetation Structure in Core Sage-Grouse Habitats

The composition and abundance of plant species in sagebrush ecosystems are important habitat attributes for sage-grouse; however, the combined effects of altered disturbance regimes (notably fire) and biological invasions (notably cheatgrass) are impacting plant community dynamics, and these effects are anticipated to accelerate with warmer climatic conditions. The goal of this project is to understand how these interacting change agents may influence plant community dynamics in core sage-grouse habitat areas across the range of sagebrush. USGS and university collaborators are working to integrate field measurements of plant community structure and soil conditions with ecological simulation models to assess the influence of changing climate and disturbance regimes on the plant species composition and vegetation structure of sagebrush-dominated ecosystems.  

For Additional Information

John Bradford
USGS Southwest Biological Science Center
jbradford@usgs.gov
928-523-7766

Sagebrush Responses to Climate: Experiments to Inform Climate Vulnerability Assessments and Restoration Practices

Sagebrush occupies a wide geographic and climate range in the western United States, and its responses to climate shifts likely vary across latitudes, elevations, and sagebrush types. USGS has established an array of long-term, experimental climate manipulations across the Snake River Plain Ecoregion, and the outcomes are useful in assessing habitat change for Greater Sage-grouse. Experimental warming effects are being evaluated in sites ranging from low sagebrush of pristine basins in Grand Teton National Park to disturbed and invaded sites in southwest Idaho. Treatments also include long-term manipulations of snow or rainfall, with and without the presence of exotic or introduced grasses.

For Additional Information

Matthew Germino
USGS Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
mgermino@usgs.gov
208-426-3353

Effects of Spring Livestock Grazing on Behavioral and Demographic Traits of Greater Sage-Grouse

Sagebrush occupies a wide geographic and climate range in the western United States, and its responses to climate shifts likely vary across latitudes, elevations, and sagebrush types. USGS has established an array of long-term, experimental climate manipulations across the Snake River Plain Ecoregion, and the outcomes are useful in assessing habitat change for Greater Sage-grouse. Experimental warming effects are being evaluated in sites ranging from low sagebrush of pristine basins in Grand Teton National Park to disturbed and invaded sites in southwest Idaho. Treatments also include long-term manipulations of snow or rainfall, with and without the presence of exotic or introduced grasses.

For Additional Information

Courtney Conway
USGS Idaho Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit
cconway@usgs.gov
208-885-6176

Perennial Grass Response to Post-Fire Grazing Management in the Great Basin

Perennial grasses are a vital component of a functioning sagebrush ecosystem and an important source of food for grazing cattle. In the event of a wildfire, burned perennial grasses need time to recover, but when are perennial grasses stable enough to accommodate grazing again? USGS has initiated a new study to investigate The researchers will study seasonal timing of grazing after fires and the length of grazing rest after fire to determine how these factors affect perennial grass recovery. In addition, they will examine the length of grazing rest after post-fire seeding to determine any impacts on seedling establishment and growth. Results can aid recommendations for post-fire management of livestock grazing when rehabilitation of resilient sagebrush-steppe habitat is the focus. Findings could also guide post-fire grazing management on lands that provide critical sage-grouse habitat.

For Additional Information

David Pyke
USGS Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
david_a_pyke@usgs.gov
541-750-0989

 

 

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